Local journalist Sean Roubens during an interview with VOA Creole Service, March 30, 2024. (Photo: Courtesy of Voice of America)
Local journalist Sean Roubens during an interview with VOA Creole Service on March 30, 2024, the day kidnappers released him. (Photo: Courtesy of Voice of America)

Haitian journalist, YouTuber kidnapped by gang members, released

Local journalist Sean Roubens was kidnapped on March 14, 2024, by a gang in Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince and held for 17 days before being released unharmed on March 30.

Roubens, 42, is a veteran fixer, assisting foreign journalists and social media personalities seeking to report on Haiti’s gang violence. At the time of his kidnapping, Roubens was working with a U.S. YouTube personality, Adisson Pierre Maalouf, who goes by the name “Arab” on social media.

Roubens told CPJ that he was hired by Maalouf to arrange an interview with Haitian gang leader, Jimmy Chérizier, also known as Barbecue. 

Roubens and Maalouf were driving from Cap Haitian, in the northern region of the country, when they were intercepted by members of a rival gang, 400 Mawozo, led by Joseph Wilson, known in Haitian Creole as Lanmò Sanjou, or “Death Can Come Any Day.”

Roubens believes they were “set up” by corrupt police officers who sold information to the gang members about their transportation details as they were entering the capital. 

Roubens and Maalouf were held at gunpoint by men armed with M-16s and shotguns and were forced to record videos with Wilson, pretending “to act friendly with him,” Roubens told The New York Times. “That was the only way to get out of that situation,” he said. 

Wilson is wanted in the United States in connection with the kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries and their children, who were held for ransom in 2021. Wilson was also sanctioned last year by the U.S. Treasury Department, and the FBI has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

During the 17 days they were held, Roubens said they managed to keep their spirits up by praying together. “We shared the same bathroom; we shared the same soap,” he said. 

Roubens and Maalouf were released after Maalouf’s family paid an undisclosed ransom. A second ransom was demanded, but Wilson dropped his demand after he apparently came under pressure from Chérizier to release the pair, according to Roubens.

Roubens told CPJ that he was traumatized and planned to take a break from his work. “I will not go to the red zone any longer, I am done with it,” he said, saying he regretted putting his family through “the pain they had to go through during the time I was away.” 

Roubens also confirmed that gang members offered to release him early on, but he chose to stay with Maalouf to help secure his release. “They said, we don’t want any money from you. We already know you have no money. But this white man, we should make money from him so that we can buy guns.”

400 Mawozo leader Wilson could not be reached for comment.

Since the assassination of the country’s president in 2021, Haiti has been beset by gang rule and violence and currently has no recognized authority since acting President and Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigned on March 12, 2024. In 2023 Haiti joined CPJ’s list of countries where killers of journalists are likely to go free, ranking as the world’s third worst impunity offender.