Nissandere Martyr, Juders Yseme, and David Boniface, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against former Haitian Mayor Jean Morose Viliena, are seen at a federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 13, 2023. The plaintiffs were recently awarded $15.5 million in damages. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

CPJ welcomes US court ruling that Haitian mayor was responsible for 2008 radio station attack

Washington, D.C., March 22, 2023—In response to a Boston court’s ruling Tuesday finding former Haitian Mayor Jean Morose Viliena responsible for attacking the New Vision Radio community radio station in 2008, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued the following statement:

“It is heartening to see the recognition of former Haitian Mayor Jean Morose Viliena’s crimes, including the 2008 attack on a community radio station, after a decades-long pursuit of justice,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Those who seek to violently silence the free flow of information should be held to account no matter where they are located. This verdict shows that the United States is not a safe haven for those attempting to evade justice.”

In 2008, Viliena and his armed supporters ransacked New Vision Radio, a station in Les Irois operated and financed by members of the Struggling People’s Party and which broadcasted local news, political debates, and gospel music, according to the Center for Justice and Accountability, a San Francisco-based human rights organization that served as representation in the civil complaint against Viliena, along with two private law firms.

On Tuesday, March 22, the plaintiffs, including the son of the man who owned the building where the radio station rented a room, were awarded $15.5 million in damages, including $11 million in punitive damages by the jury for the attacks on the station as well as other instances of political violence, according to a press release by the CJA. Viliena denied any wrongdoing, according to The Associated Press.

Haitian authorities arrested Viliena in 2008 in relation to the killing of a man who had accused him of misconduct as well as the shootings of two people at the New Vision Radio office, building owner Nissage Martyr and local high school student Juders Ysemé. Martyr was shot in the leg during that attack, and Ysemé was blinded in one eye, according to the CJA press release.

Viliena was provisionally released and then fled to the United States, according to news reports. The plaintiffs filed a civil complaint in a U.S. District Court in 2017, and Nissage Martyr died later that year. The complaint was filed under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows for the filing of U.S. civil lawsuits against foreign officials who allegedly committed wrongdoing in their home countries, if all legal avenues in their homeland have been exhausted.

“I agreed to have the station at my house because I know the media would serve the population,” Nissage Martyr said in 2017, according to those reports, saying that Viliena “did not like the radio station and destroyed it because he knew that the population would become aware of the crimes he was committing.”