Miami, April 9, 2020 — Haitian authorities should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the assault on a group of journalists at the National Identification Office in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At about 11:00 a.m. on April 2, several unidentified men punched and hit a group of eight reporters at the National Identification Office, a government department that manages citizens’ identification cards, while they were investigating claims that the office was violating COVID-19 guidelines by keeping applicants in close quarters, according to news reports and Robest Dimanche, one of the journalists, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
Some of the attackers were wearing t-shirts identifying them as personnel from the National Identification Office, and others were wearing shirts identifying them as employees of the Ministry of the Interior and “Public Security,” according to a complaint filed by the journalists to the public prosecutor’s office, which CPJ reviewed.
“Haitian authorities should conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the assaults of Robest Dimache and other journalists at the National Identification Office, and hold those responsible to account,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Journalists should be free to cover COVID-19 and local authorities’ handling of the pandemic without fear that they will be assaulted.”
Dimanche, a reporter for the privately owned Radio Tele Zenith broadcaster, said that the attack started when the journalists began taking pictures of crowds gathered in the office. He said the assailants beat the journalists until an officer with the Haitian National Police Western Departmental Direction escorted the reporters out of the building.
Dimanche said that a man punched him several times in the face and hit him on his body. He went to the Hôpital de l’Université d’État D’Haïti following the attack, where he was treated for bruises on his jaw, neck, and back, according to Dimanche and medical certificates issued by the hospital, which CPJ reviewed. He said he took medical leave from his work due to his injuries.
The certificates stated that one of the other journalists was treated for bruises on their body, arm, and back. All of the journalists were reporters at digital outlets, Dimanche said.
CPJ called the National Identification Office at the numbers on its official website, but none of those numbers were in service.