New York, July 26, 2023—Those holding Haitian journalist Blondine Tanis must release her immediately and Haitian authorities must work to establish safe working conditions for journalists in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Unidentified people kidnapped Tanis, a host on the local broadcaster Radio Renovation FM, on the afternoon of July 21 as she was arriving at her home in the Delmas neighborhood of the capital, Port-au-Prince, according to news reports and Radio Renovation FM editor-in-chief Celou Flécher, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Tanis has worked as a co-host of the “Tribune Matinale” (Morning Forum) show on the news and sports station for the past seven months, Flécher told CPJ.
Tanis had just left the radio station in a vehicle at around 4 p.m. when she was abducted, Flécher said. On July 22, the kidnappers contacted Tanis’ family and demanded a “large sum of money, beyond the family’s means,” he said, noting that Tanis has a two-year-old child.
The journalist, who has asthma and another condition requiring medication, has not been able to access medications prescribed by her doctor, Flécher told CPJ.
“The unstable political situation in Haiti has created conditions in which kidnapping is a major risk for everyone in the country, including journalists. Those holding radio journalist Blondine Tanis must release her immediately and unconditionally,” said Cristina Zahar, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in São Paulo. “Haitian authorities need to establish rule of law and ensure that journalists, as well as Haiti’s population more broadly, can live their lives without fear of becoming a hostage. Journalists should not be used as pawns in power struggles in Haiti.”
CPJ could not immediately determine whether Tanis’ abduction was related to her work as a journalist. The incident occurred amid a wave of kidnappings in recent weeks as criminal gangs seek to reassert control over the capital following a backlash from civilian vigilantes in April that forced gangs into retreat in some areas.
To protest Tanis’ kidnapping, Radio Rénovation FM announced the suspension of its regular programming for an indefinite period on July 22.
A Haitian women’s journalist association, Solidarité des Femmes Haïtiennes Journalistes (SOFEHJ), on Monday called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Tanis and expressed concern about an apparent surge in targeted kidnappings of professionals with presumed financial means, including journalists and doctors.
Tanis’ disappearance came barely a month after another radio journalist, Marie Lucie Bonhomme of Vision 2000, was briefly kidnapped from her home in a gang-controlled neighborhood of Tabarre, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, on July 13. She was released a few hours later by the Kraze Baryè gang, led by Vitel’Homme Innocent.
A week later, Bonhomme’s husband, Pierre-Louis Opont, co-owner of independent Télé Pluriel channel 44 and the former president of the Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, was also kidnapped. His kidnappers asked for a $1 million ransom, Bonhomme told CPJ, and she said he was still missing as of July 25.
Pierre Espérance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network nongovernmental organization, said in an interview on Radio Magik 9, reviewed by CPJ, that the police had taken an especially lax approach towards the activities of Kraze Baryè, which has been accused of several recent kidnappings in the Port-au-Prince areas of Pétion-Ville, Delmas, Tabarre, and Croix-des-Bouquets.
Haitian police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers and police union head Lionel Lazarre did not immediately respond to CPJ’s calls and emailed requests for comment.
“For some time now, the bandits have been operating in full view of the public with impunity, as they believe they are in control of the situation,” Renan Hédouville, head of Haiti’s Office of the Protector of Citizens, an independent state entity, said in a statement sent to CPJ.
“The police are powerless, and the political authorities have no real plan to curb the insecurity fueled by bandits.”