Pierre-Louis Opont, president of Haiti’s independent Télé Pluriel channel 44, disappeared in a gang-controlled neighborhood on June 20, 2023. (Photo: Haiti Ministry of Communication)

Haitian television station owner disappears days after brief abduction of his journalist wife

New York, June 22, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on Haitian authorities to investigate the reported kidnapping of Pierre-Louis Opont, the president of Haiti’s independent Télé Pluriel channel 44, and the brief abduction of his journalist wife Marie Lucie Bonhomme.

The disappearance of Opont on Tuesday, June 20, came days after Bonhomme, a veteran reporter for Haiti’s radio station Vision 2000, was abducted from her home for several hours, according to news reports and Bonhomme.

“Haitian authorities must immediately investigate the whereabouts of Pierre-Louis Opont and the abduction of Marie Lucie Bonhomme,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “At the same time, Haiti’s criminal groups must stop using journalists and their relatives as pawns in their power struggle with local authorities.”

Bonhomme told CPJ that Opont called her about 7:10 p.m. on Tuesday as he was driving to their home in the Tabarre district of Port-au-Prince to say that he would be home in five minutes. He never arrived. A local news report noted that the area is controlled by the Kraze Baryè gang, led by Vitel’Homme Innocent.  

Bonhomme told CPJ that a week earlier, on June 13, she was taken from their home at 3a.m. by a group of approximately 30 armed men in a case that was widely covered by the Haitian media. “I believe I was deliberately targeted. It was clear that Vitel’homme knew who I was. Sadly, I don’t know why he chose to abduct me; just to send a message perhaps,” she said.

Bonhomme said that the men entered her home carrying rifles and handguns, threatening to kill her if she didn’t open the metal gate giving access to her room and another unoccupied room. She opened the gate after they began throwing bottles into the space.

The men ransacked her house, taking two laptops, Bonhomme’s cellphone, iPad, and internet router. The men also took the cellphones of three other people in the house at the time and who are not being named for safety reasons.

Several of the men then drove Bonhomme away in her Toyota 4Runner, transferring her to a pick-up truck about 10 minutes later. After another drive lasting about 90 minutes, they entered the gated courtyard of a house. The gunmen got out, with one instructing her to stay in the car.

Several minutes later, the front car door opened, and a man called her by her first name, asked her in Creole if she was all right and whether she recognized his voice. She told him that she recognized his voice as that of Vitel’homme.

Bonhomme told CPJ that she and the man she believed to be Vitel’homme had a five-minute conversation while she was in the car. She could not see his face because it was dark outside, but said his voice was familiar from his numerous broadcasts. She said he did not express anger toward her, but complained about “the people he collaborated with and who today want to destroy him.”

Bonhomme said she told him that the country could not continue to function in its current state of stability and asked if he had considered “being part of the solution.” Vitel’homme said that he believes in dialogue but that officials do not, and then told Bonhomme that he was going to set her free.

The abductors drove Bonhomme back home around 8a.m. and returned some of the devices belonging to her and the others staying in her home. She subsequently retrieved her cell phone, car, and work computer between June 14 and 16 by calling two numbers given to her by Vitel’homme.

“[T]he police don’t have the means today to deal with the atrocities committed by the bandits, and that’s why our position on this is to see to what extent the international community could come to the aid of the police,” said Renan Hedouville from Haiti’s Office of the Protector of Citizens, an independent state entity. “The armed bandits in Haiti today control everything, they impose their laws, they kill, they pillage, they kidnap in full view of everyone, including journalists, who carry out their difficult job, and of course are often the victims.”

Bonhomme has worked for Vision 2000 since 2000, where she hosts a morning current affairs show from 6:30- 9:30 a.m. 

Opont worked as a journalist in the 1980s with the state-run TNH (Télévision Nationale d’Haiti), and previously served as president of Haiti’s electoral commission from 2015- 2016. In 2016, Télé Pluriel channel 44 was attacked by armed gunmen.

Bonhomme told CPJ that she believed that her husband’s disappearance is related to her work and that kidnapping journalists appears to be seen by gang members as a quick show of authority, rather than a direct retribution for the journalist’s reporting.

“I’ve been a journalist for over 35 years, and the situation in Haiti has never been so dangerous,” she told CPJ. Bonhomme said she has previously faced threats from gangs and local officials; this is the first time she has been abducted.

“I have to keep working, but I can’t do it now,” she told CPJ. “I’m very worried, especially as the Vitel’homme gang is continuing its attacks in the commune of Tabarre, particularly in my neighborhood.”

Bonhomme reported her abduction to authorities, and an investigating magistrate visited several days later along, accompanied by members of a police anti-kidnapping unit, but she is not aware of any further action taken by authorities.  

CPJ contacted the Anti-Kidnap Unit about Bonhomme and Opont via messaging app but did not immediately receive a reply.