Reporters Without Borders (RSF) protested to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide today against the non-renewal of the investigating judge’s mandate in the Jean Dominique murder case. The judge, Claudy Gassant, was replaced on 23 January by three others, Josua Agnant, Bernard Sainvil and Joachim Saint-Clair. RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to President Aristide that "the murder of Jean Dominique and the numerous obstructions to Judge Gassant’s investigation are a symbol of the impunity that exists in Haiti. With the replacement of Gassant, there is now virtually no hope of finding out the truth about the killing, especially if the authorities continue to block the investigation." RSF praises the professionalism and seriousness with which Judge Gassant carried out his enquiry in the face of constant threats and pressure. Jean Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, and many Haitian journalists’ associations had called for the judge’s mandate to be renewed.
RSF learns that President Aristide replaced Gassant on 23 January with Judges Josua Agnant, Bernard Sainvil and Joachim Saint-Clair. Gassant, whose term expired on 4 January, has been in the United States since 9 January. He had replaced Judge Jean Sénat Fleury as the investigating judge in September 2000 after Fleury resigned for reasons of personal security.
The progress of Judge Gassant’s investigation has been constantly obstructed. His naming of Sen. Dany Toussaint, a member of the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party, as the main suspect in the murder, was followed by numerous threats against the judge by grassroots organisations. Several witnesses of the murder have also died in suspicious circumstances that point directly to the police and the Haitian authorities. Gassant was also obliged to conduct his enquiry amid continual police harassment. The last of a long list of these was on 21 December 2001, when a presidential palace security vehicle deliberately crashed into the judge’s car and threatened him with a gun. In a report on the case on 2 April 2001, RSF deplored the fact that the enquiry had several times almost been shelved. In June 2000, Jean Wilner Lalanne, suspected of having been a link between the masterminds of the murder and those who carried it out, died in suspicious circumstances after being arrested. In January 2001, the senate opposed Judge Gassant’s application to question Sen. Toussaint about the murder.
Jean Dominique, who was well-known for his independence on the air, was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station, Radio Haiti Inter, on 3 April 2000. Targets of his criticism had included former Duvalierists and soldiers as well as the country’s powerful families (the "bourgeoisie") and, not long before he died, those he suspected inside Fanmi Lavalas of trying to "divert the movement away from its original ideals."