At least six journalists have been kidnapped and released in Haiti over the past eight months in 2023. They include Haitian journalist Jean Thony Lorthé (left), Pierre-Louis Opont (center), president of Haiti’s independent Télé Pluriel channel 44, and Blondine Tanis (right), a host on Haitian broadcaster Radio Renovation FM. (Photo credits: Jean Thony Lorthé, Haiti Ministry of Communication, and Radio Renovation FM)

Journalist kidnappings rise in Haiti as violence spikes

At least six journalists have been kidnapped and released in Haiti over the past eight months as gangs have grown in strength since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, with the groups forming alliances and calling for the armed overthrow of the government.

Since February, CPJ has documented the murder of one journalist, several reporters forced to flee their homes, and numerous other threats and attacks on the press as gangs have taken over much of Port-au-Prince, killing, raping, burning homes, and terrorizing communities.

The journalists’ work appeared to be a clear motive for the abduction in some cases, though money and visibility were also likely factors. In every case, a ransom was paid to secure the release of the victim, although no one was willing to disclose the amount paid.

  • On February 3, suspected gang members kidnapped Haitian journalist Jean Thony Lorthé, host of the show, “Memory Refresh,” on privately owned radio and television outlet Radio Vision 2000.

Lorthé told CPJ that he was headed to a funeral in Port-au-Prince’s Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood with his wife and brother at around 7 p.m. when they were ambushed at a crossroads by a dozen heavily armed men in the Laboule 12 neighborhood, which is controlled by the Tik Makak gang.

“They took us hostage and confiscated our two vehicles, stripping us of jewelry, cell phones, and cash,” Lorthé told CPJ.

Lorthé said he believed his journalism was a motive in the kidnapping. “I was asked a lot of questions about Radio Vision 2000, about some of my reports, and they questioned me about the government,” he said. The gang leader was present at the kidnapping, he said, taking that as a sign that the abduction was planned.

The three captives were freed after 15 days following the payment of a ransom. Lorthé, who has since left the country, said he went to the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police, responsible for investigating serious crimes in Haiti, to make a statement but he had not heard anything since and did not know if the police were investigating the case.

“Generally speaking, the police don’t react. Especially since the police don’t have the means or the strategy to confront the gangs,” he said. “I was given a certificate of my statement. I’m not aware of anything else.”

A spokesperson for the Haitian police did not respond to a request for comment on Lorthé‘s case.

  • On March 17, Lebrun Saint-Hubert, owner of the community radio station RCH 2000 and host of a current affairs show “Konfizyon” (Confusion), was kidnapped and held captive for eight days

Saint-Hubert told CPJ that eight armed men dressed in black took him hostage around 7 p.m. in the Delmas 39 area of Port-au-Prince while he was drivingto a restaurant he owns, Kora Bar & Grill. The kidnappers demanded $1.5 million in ransom, said Saint-Hubert, who declined to tell CPJ how much he paid.

Upon his release, Saint-Hubert, who also filed a complaint with the police and briefly left the country. He has since returned to Haiti and resumed hosting his show.Saint-Hubert, who also works as a police officer, said he had requested to be transferred to a safer neighborhood. “No one can move in Haiti. It’s like a prison,” he said, in reference to the volatile situation on the ground.

Saint-Hubert confirmed that a dispute with a local politician over ownership of the radio station may have been the motive for the kidnapping, as reported by local media, but said he could not be certain who was responsible.

  • From April 10 to 21, Robert Denis, the 75-year-old owner of the TV station Canal Bleu, was held captive until he paid an undisclosed ransom, he told CPJ.

Denis, who is also president of the National Association of Haitian Media,said hewas stopped by armed men while driving his car at 10 a.m. on the Route de Frères, east of the capital. Denis said that he was held in an empty room, where he slept on the floor, and was subjected to death threats.

“They only had one objective: money,” said Denis, adding that his car, laptop, passport, and other documents were stolen.

Denis said he filed a complaint with the police but had little hope of the case being resolved. “They said they would investigate, but it’s like we are at war. The police don’t have the resources to protect everyone. The gangs can kill and kidnap, and they know nothing will happen to them,” he said.

CPJ has previously documented the kidnappings of three other journalists in the country:

  • On June 20, Pierre-Louis Opont, president of Haiti’s independent Télé Pluriel channel 44, was kidnapped a week after the brief abduction of his wife, Marie Lucie Bonhomme, a veteran journalist for  Radio Vision 2000, in Port-au-Prince’s Tabarre neighborhood. Bonhomme told CPJ that she was freed after several hours while her husband was held for over two months before his release.
  • On July 21, Blondine Tanis, a host on the local broadcaster Radio Renovation FM, was kidnapped by unidentified people at her home in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. She was released on July 30 after a ransom was paid. In each case, victims told CPJ that they were unaware of any effort by the police or judicial authorities to investigate the incidents.

Haiti is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. CPJ has documented the killings of nine journalists since 2021, with six confirmed to have been killed in connection with their work.

“Journalists must strike a balance between their duty to inform and their obligation to stay alive,” Lorthé said. “To protect themselves, they must analyze situations carefully before approaching gangs,” adding that journalists do not have the training or the equipment to protect themselves when covering gangs. 

On October 2, the United Nations Security Council approved sending an international security mission to Haiti to support the police in regaining territory from the gangs.

Editor’s note: The second paragraph of this report has been updated to correct the number of journalists murdered in Haiti in 2023.