The entrance of Radio Télé Zenith after unknown attackers shot several rounds and threw Molotov cocktails at the office building on January 31, 2022. No employees were injured. (Radio Télé Zenith)

Attackers shoot at, firebomb offices of Haitian outlet Radio Télé Zenith

Miami, February 3, 2022 — Haitian authorities should conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into an attack on the Radio Télé Zenith offices, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Around 2 a.m. on Monday, January 31, an unknown number of armed individuals riding in two vehicles fired several rounds and threw Molotov cocktails into the offices of private outlet Radio Télé Zenith, located in the Croix-des-Bouquets area of the capital Port-au-Prince, according to news reports and Chimene Sylvestre, the outlet’s manager, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. The bullets hit the entrance of the building and broke windows, and the explosions damaged some equipment and furniture, Sylvestre said.

At the time of the attack, there were at least two staff members inside the offices broadcasting a news report, but no staff were harmed, according to Sylvestre.

The outlet and the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH), a local trade group, believe gang members perpetrated the attack because of the outlet’s gang-related coverage and previous social media threats from gang members, according to Sylvestre and a statement by the AJH, which CPJ reviewed.

“The violent attack, apparently by gang members, on Radio Télé Zenith evidences the brazenness and impunity in which these groups operate and target journalists in Haiti,” said Ana Cristina Núñez, CPJ’s Latin American and the Caribbean senior researcher. “The only way to put an end to the spiral of violence against the press in Haiti is for authorities to, once and for all, take real action and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Bullets and Molotov cocktails hit the doors, broke windows, and damaged equipment and furniture in the Radio Télé Zenith offices during an attack by unknown attackers on January 31, 2022. (Radio Télé Zenith)

After attacking the outlet, the armed individuals fired into the Bon Repos police station, near the Radio Télé Zenith offices, killing one officer and injuring another, according to media reports.

Later that day, the acting director general of the National Police, Frantz Elbé, visited the outlet and said that his office and the judicial police were investigating the incident, according to news  reports and Sylvestre.

Since the attack, the outlet has continued reporting and broadcasting, Sylvestre told CPJ. “We continue. We move forward,” Sylvestre said. “We are not going to back down.”

Although it is unclear who was responsible for the attack, Sylvestre believes the station was the main target, as the outlet has received multiple threats by gang members on social media. Radio Télé Zenith has reported on the violent actions of several gangs, according to Sylvestre.

The attack also comes two months after “400 Mawazo” gang members threatened to set fire to Radio Télé Zenith, “to silence it,” according to the AJH statement. The outlet has repeatedly filed complaints with authorities, including the judicial police, about the threats, but there had been no response or action, according to Sylvestre and news website Vant Béf Info.

Last month, suspected gang members shot and killed two Haitian journalists, Wilguens Louis-Saint and John Wesley Amady, while they were reporting on the lack of security in a gang disputed area in the capital, as CPJ documented at the time.

In response to CPJ’s requests for comment on WhatsApp, Marie-Michelle Verrier, the spokesperson for the Haitian National Police, referred CPJ to a post on the institution’s Facebook account which said that instructions had been given to the judicial police to proceed with the investigation and “make every effort in order to track down the individuals who want, at all costs, to create a climate of terror in Haiti.”

CPJ called the judicial police for comment, but no one answered.