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Haïti21 December 2001

Press’s situation still tense after alleged coup attempt

In a letter to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, RSF expressed its serious concern after close to a dozen journalists, including Ives-Marie Chanel, a radio journalist and RSF’s correspondent in Port-au-Prince, were the victims of intimidation. In addition, no measures have been taken to assure the protection of radio stations that have been threatened. "Despite the tragic murder of Brignol Lindor, accusations by your supporters that certain journalists are members of the opposition continue," deplored RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "The absence of measures to protect threatened newsrooms and public radio’s participation in the intimidaton campaign negate the commitment you made on 17 December to see to it that press freedom is respected," the organisation deplored. RSF urged the president to allow a return to calm by taking measures to guarantee the security of threatened journalists and media outlets. RSF also urged Aristide to give his supporters very clear orders to end their intimidation of press representatives.

image 150 x 122 (JPEG) Lindor, a journalist from Radio Echo 2000, was killed on 3 December 2001 by individuals who are close to the president’s party, Fanmi Lavalas. Three days earlier, the Petit-Goâve mayor’s assistant had called for the "zero tolerance" policy to be applied against the journalist after he received opposition figures as guests on his radio programme. Since October, an estimated forty journalists have been threatened or assaulted by government supporters who accuse them of being too critical of the government.

Climate of insecurity persists

image 200 x 127 (JPEG)  According to information collected by RSF, the Haitian press’s situation had yet to be normalised four days after the 17 December alleged coup d’état’s failure. Close to ten journalists remain in hiding as they feel threatened. Five journalists have reportedly sought refuge in embassies and allegedly wish to leave the country. At least two of the four radio stations that were forced to cease broadcasting on 17 December have reported that the police have not offered them any protection. Yet, during a recent speech, President Aristide had commited himself to ensuring that press freedom is respected. Moreover, on 11 December, a meeting of media outlets and the police was organised. The police had sought the meeting in an effort to improve its relationship with the press.

Private radio stations, a majority of which either suspended their news bulletins or ceased broadcasting altogether on 17 December, have gradually started rescheduling their normal programming. However, Radio Caraïbes FM announced that it was suspending its news programmes until January 2002. Cap-Haitien based Radio Maxima has also yet to start broadcasting its news programmes again. Station director Jean Robert Lalanne explained that this is due to the continued sense of insecurity felt by the station’s journalists. The persistent climate of insecurity has also led Radio Kiskeya to continue its suspension of the call-in programme "Dim ma diw" ("From You to Me"), in which listeners occasionally express very strong views.

RSF has also learned that on 19 December, Thony Jean Ténor, a Haitian citizen residing in Florida (USA), stated on the public radio station Radio Nationale that Chanel worked for the Organisation du peuple en lutte (OPL, an opposition party). Interviewed by Radio Nationale news director Jean Th. Pierre-Louis, Ténor also stated that Chanel was among the persons who were "frustrated" by the coup d’état’s failure. On 18 December, the journalist issued a statement on Radio Kafou, a Florida-based Haitian community station. He stated that he was saddened by the violence in Haiti and highlighted the climate of insecurity for local journalists. Since Chanel’s comments on Radio Kafou, station director Alex Saint Surin has stated that he has been the object of attacks by Florida-based pro-Lavalas radio stations. Chanel is director of Radio Sans-Souci FM, programming director of Radio Ibo, and Haiti-based correspondent for the Inter Press Service (IPS) agency and RSF.

Background

On 17 December, about thirty armed men attacked the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince at dawn. A few hours later, security forces stormed the palace and regained control. Several thousand Aristide supporters took to the streets after an appeal by the president. Armed with machetes, sticks and pistols, they threatened about ten journalists. Some protesters told one of the journalists, "we would have killed you if you were a Radio Caraïbes journalist." Four private radio stations based in the capital ceased broadcasting for security reasons. The demonstrators also attacked several opposition parties’ offices. The opposition has since labelled the failed coup attempt a "set up" against it.



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