Press freedom markedly declined in 2003 due to President Mejía’s campaign for reelection.
Several journalists were targeted in 2003 after criticising President Hipólito Mejía, who announced he would be a candidate to succeed himself in the May 2004 presidential election even though his own Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) opposed his candidacy. Mejía’s economic and social policies were increasingly criticised too and sparked violent protests throughout the country.
He was also suspected of wanting to take control of some of the media owned by the collapsed Baninter bank to help his reelection. The bank owns several daily papers, including the country’s most influential one, Listin Diario, four TV stations and 76 radio stations.
Police said the death of journalist Daniel Martich, who had reported on serious damage to the environment, was suicide but his family rejected this explanation.
A journalist killed
One journalist was killed in 2003 but it was not possible to say by the end of the year if this was because of his job.
Daniel Martich, of the TV station Telemicro, was found unconscious on Las Salinas beach, in Baní (west of Santo Domingo), with a gunshot wound in the head on 4 August and died later in hospital. He had a revolver in his left hand and his car was missing. His family and friends said he would not have killed himself and had no reason to.
A pathologist said it could have been a murder made to look like suicide, since the bullet had been fired into his forehead, unusual in a suicide, and the wound area was not blackened as it would be if the shot had been fired close-up in a suicide.
Martich frequently reported on damage to the environment. On 27 July, in the station’s "Proceso" programme, he had described damage done to the Las Salinas beach and the sand dunes at Baní. Police said he had killed himself and that there was no indication he was murdered. A witness said Martich arrived at the beach alone. A friend, who Martich often showed his poems and articles to, said one had been called "One day, I’ll choose suicide." It could not be found.
New information about a journalist killed before 2003
An appeals court in Santo Domingo in July 2003 halved the prison sentences passed on the killers of Orlando Martínez, editor of the magazine Ahora, who was murdered in 1975. His family can still appeal against the decision to the supreme court.
Army officers Joaquín Antonio Pou Castro, Rafael Alfredo Lluberes Ricart, Luis Emilio de la Rosa and Mariano Cabrera Durán were sentenced to 30 years each on 4 August 2000. The verdict was thrown out on appeal on 5 November 2002 for technical reasons, that the grounds for the conviction were not published in the correct manner.
Martínez, who also worked for the daily El Nacional and was a member of the Communist Party, was shot dead on the night of 17 March 1975. His family said he had been warned that his articles were upsetting powerful people, including the then-president, Joaquín Balaguer.
Two journalists imprisoned
Horacio Emilio Lemoine and Carlos Martínez, of Radio Montecristi, were arrested in the northwestern town of Montecrisiti on 25 July 2003 and then jailed in Santo Domingo, two days after many of the station’s listeners had said on the air they would rather vote for the devil than President Mejía in the 2004 presidential election. The journalists were freed three days later but are being prosecuted for slandering the head of state, an offence which carries between three months and a year in prison.
Two journalists arrested
Marino Zapete Corniel, of the online daily Los Nuevos Tiempos Digitales (cafebambu.com) and the weekly Primicia, was arrested at his Santo Domingo home by police detectives on 11 June 2003. He was interrogated for five hours about his sources of information and then, according to the journalist, released on the orders of President Mejía. In the 7 June issue of Primicia, he had criticised the suspected use of public funds to build country houses for the president. Mejía said on 13 June he would sue him for writing "unacceptable things" and harming his reputation.
The daily paper El Nacional reported on 20 June that Salce, the paper’s correspondent in Monción, had been arrested by local police for wrongly attributing news about police abuses to the town’s human rights committee, which denied being the source. The paper criticised the reporter but also his detention since the law does not allow journalists to be imprisoned for press offences.
Two journalists physically attacked
After vainly trying to burn down his house on 5 January 2003, thugs set fire to the car of Julio Gómez, correspondent of Telemicro Canal 5 and the daily paper Hoy in Pedernales province (bordering Haiti) and a presenter with Radio Pedernales. He had recently reported on corruption in local public transport.
Jose Luciano, a cameraman with Radio Televisión Dominicana, was beaten by a security guard at Santo Domingo University on 14 June to stop him filming a ceremony there. He was taken to hospital and a police enquiry opened into the incident.
Harassment and obstruction
The government’s legal adviser, Guido Gómez Mazara, announced on 6 February 2003 that a slander suit was being brought against Julio Martínez Pozo, a presenter with Radio Z-101, for saying a presidential official had imported an armoured vehicle without paying tax. During the programme, President Mejía himself had phoned the station and demanded that the journalist provide evidence and name the official. The suit also targeted a former deputy, Rafael Flores Estrellas, who had said the same thing.
The Banco Intercontinental (Baninter) collapsed on 15 May, leaving debts of 55 billion pesos ($2.1 billion). Its main shareholder, Ramón Báez Figueroa, and two vice-presidents were arrested for alleged money-laundering, fraud, misuse of company property and writing dud cheques. The bank’s assets were immediately put in the hands of an administrator.
The bank owns the country’s most influential newspaper, the daily Listin Diario, as well as El Expreso, Última Hora and El Financiero, TV stations RNN and Telecentro and 76 radio stations. The government said it would use the assets to indemnify the bank’s customers. In June, the running of the media was handed over to the national anti-money-laundering committee’s office in charge of seized assets under law 72-02 on money-laundering. The government was accused of trying to take over the media as part of Mejía’s effort to be reelected in 2004.
Several media figures resigned complaining about attempts by the administrators’ to influence editorial policy. Judge Samuel Arias Arzeno ordered on 29 July that four papers, including Listín Diario, be handed back to their owner on grounds they had been illegally seized.
But the Santo Domingo civil and commercial court said on 5 September the decision was invalid because the bodies ordered to return the papers had no power to do. Three of the dailies (El Expreso, El Financiero and Ultima Hora) were forced to close for financial reasons after the Baninter collapse.