Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network deplored in a report the failure of the authorities in Haiti to arrest those responsible for last year’s brutal murder of journalist Brignol Lindor and said the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared to be covering up for the killers.
Zero tolerance for the media : an enquiry into the murder of journalist Brignol Lindor
by Christian Lionet and Calixto Avila
A Reporters Without Borders / Damocles Network investigation in Haiti - September 2002
A journalist was beaten to death in the town of Petit-Goâve on 3 December 2001 by a gang of killers with ties to local politicians and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas ("Avalanche") movement. The particularly gruesome killing cut down Brignol Lindor, an intelligent, able and cultivated young man of 31 who kept apart from squabbling factions. Many saw him as the "future" of this deprived town where he was born, 70 kms southwest of Port-au-Prince.
The murder happened at a time when press freedom in Haiti was steadily deteriorating in the wake of the killing of Jean Dominique, head of the radio station Haiti-Inter, on 3 April the previous year. Between January and November 2001, at least 16 journalists were threatened or physically attacked, mostly by police or self-styled militants of Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family - FL), Aristide’s political party, who justified their actions by accusing the media of playing into the hands of the opposition by criticising the government. The lack of any investigation into these abuses and the many obstacles encountered in the enquiry into Dominique’s murder show that those responsible are protected by the authorities.
In this atmosphere, the killing of Lindor was seen by the entire media as a new warning. During the alleged coup attempt of 17 December last year, since dismissed as bogus by the Organisation of American States (OAS), many journalists were targeted by government supporters. Fearing they would meet the same fate as Lindor, more than a dozen decided to leave the country. Others have since followed.
Today, the progress of the investigations of the two murders is being closely watched by the media, who are waiting for their attackers to be reined in. But nine months after Lindor’s death, only four of his 20 attackers identified by a range of sources have been arrested. The rest, some well known locally and proud of what they did, have not been touched by the police. The wheels of justice are turning very slowly. The expected trial will not start until next year’s session of the court of assizes and most of the accused will probably be tried in their absence.
The investigating judge also seems likely to spare those who seem to have instigated the crime - local officials and members of the Petit-Goâve town council at the time. Most of them are still in office. These officials had called Lindor a "terrorist" and said he should be subjected to "zero tolerance," a term used several months earlier by Aristide that many Haitian observers saw as a clear invitation to lynch criminals on the spot. The term was used by Lindor’s attackers when they killed him and in remarks made to a Haitian press freedom organisation just two days after the murder.
In a country torn by passions and violence, bled white by pervasive corruption and abandoned by the international community, the Lindor affair is a sad and eloquent example of the impunity enjoyed by the agents and accomplices of a multi-faceted authoritarian regime served by autonomous interlocking networks that do what they please.
"Zero tolerance" for the "terrorist" Brignol Lindor
On 28 November, five days before his murder, Lindor presented, as he did every Wednesday, his discussion programme "Dialogue" on a local radio station, Echo 2000. To reflect current events, his guests that day were three opposition spokesmen who for two hours called on the population in virulent terms to give strong backing to a national protest strike against the government over the next two days. The stoppage was a success in Petit-Goâve, where most people support the anti-Aristide opposition Democratic Convergence alliance. It was marked by demonstrations, violent clashes between FL and opposition supporters, clashes with police and some shooting.
On the morning of 30 November, the local pro-FL authorities reacted with a press conference which, as often in Haiti, resembled a political meeting. Deputy mayor Dumay Bony, one of the three members of the town council, said they were launching an operation to "put an end to disorder."
Bony said he wanted to start a "long-term campaign against troublemakers" and called for a "vigilante squad" to "help legal officials and police to properly implement zero tolerance for all terrorists." Amid applause and cries of "Aristide or death !" he then read out the names of five local officials he accused of being activists who had infiltrated the town government and against whom he called for "public action" to be taken. Lindor, who also worked at the local customs office, was the second name on the list.
On 3 December, the mood in the town was very heated. Opposition supporters staged a demonstration which was swelled by schoolchildren in the late morning. At about 11.30 a.m., police roughly dispersed the crowd. Around midday, according to a report on the situation by the Petit-Goâve Journalists’ Association (AJPEG), two FL militants wounded a Convergence supporter with a machete.
At the same time, police fired on a group of demonstrators who had built a burning barricade of old tyres on the main road near the town. As they fled, the demonstrators came across a well-known FL supporter, Joseph Duvergé, leader of a "grassroots organisation" (group of Aristide supporters) called Domi Nan Bwa ("Sleep in the Woods," or resistance fighters). They stoned him and left him for dead. Police later took him to hospital with serious injuries.
Hacked to death with axes and machetes
The same day, at 12.15 p.m., Lindor, who had another job as a teacher, finished giving a social science class at the Caribbean Secondary Centre school in Petit-Goâve. He went to the Toussaint Louverture College, where a friend, journalist and teacher Emmanuel Clédanor, was waiting for him. Clédanor had agree to drive him in his jeep to L’Acul, a village five kms from the town. A jeep was needed to get there because the road was very bad and you could only drive at walking pace.
They left at around 12.30 p.m. and passed in front of the customs office. That day he was wearing the shirt, tie and shoes he wore for his job there. They then stopped briefly at a place called Curtis, on the way out of town, for Lindor to chat with someone he knew. The jeep stopped again at a small garage on the edge of the town. A man accosted them, shouting insults, and Lindor asked Clédanor to drive off quickly because he knew the man was a "Lavalas rouge" (fanatical FL supporter).
They got to L’Acul at about 1 p.m., to a neighbourhood called Mont Carmel. A hot-headed group of people stopped the jeep. Without turning off the engine, Clédanor got out to talk to them. "What’s going on ?" he asked. He recognised members of the Domi Nan Bwa group, including one of his former pupils, Maxi Zéphyr, who told him : "You’ll find out !" and threw a stone at the jeep.
Clédanor then saw Lindor run away and take refuge in the nearest house at the side of the road. He himself ran to the other side into a field of sugar cane and peas. He managed to get away, with the help of one of the attackers, called Aboundai.
The other assailants focused on Lindor. Various witnesses who spoke later to Haitian journalists and the Reporters Without Borders / Damocles team said the house Lindor fled to belonged to Pétuel Zéphyr Jr (known as Ti Pétuel), a brother of Maxi Zéphyr and a member of the L’Acul local assembly (ASEC). But he was immediately thrown out. A man named Fritzler Doudoute then reportedly kicked him to the ground and, according to the AJPEG report, a man known as Ti Simon hit him with an axe.
The lynching began, reportedly involving Raymond Désulmé, Sissi Dio, D’or Monal, Joël Jolifils, Saint-Juste Joubert, Bob Toussaint, Lionel Doudoute, Ti Florian, Jean-Raymond Flory and Sedner Sainvilus (known as Ti Lapli). The last four, as well as Ti Pétuel, denied they were present. A man called Tirésias then appears to have stabbed Lindor with a pick, as did Colbert Ambalane. A third man, Bernard Desama, is said to have thrown a stone at his head. Lindor, who was perhaps dead by then, was burned on the legs, above the knee. His body was dragged into a field and left lying face down in a puddle of water.
The attackers returned soon afterwards to burn the jeep. A witness the Reporters Without Borders / Damocles team spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous, said a man called Collin Bélony was involved in this. The witness said Bélony showed up after Lindor had been killed but was told to go and get a can of petrol from a shop on the main road about a kilometre away. He said Fritz Doudoute, the brother of Fritzler and Lionel Doudoute, then used the petrol to set fire to the jeep.
When he got home, Clédanor called the police. But the person who answered twice hung up on him. News of the attack quickly reached the town via people arriving from nearby Miragoâne who had been diverted through L’Acul because the main road was blocked by demonstrators’ barricades. Lindor’s younger brother Moreno learned of the attack at about 1.30 p.m. and was told Brignol had been seriously injured. A friend, Sincère Montigène, a member of AJPEG, advised him to go to the police station, where he was told they knew about the attack but that no officer had yet been sent to the scene.
Moreno then informed the local prosecutor, Bellande Dumerzier, at the courthouse. Dumerzier had already been contacted by an investigating judge, Clédanor’s brother Alexandre, in whose house Emmanuel had taken refuge after the attack. Dumerzier had already ordered police to go to the scene of the crime, he told Moreno.
Moreno said he went back to the police station six more times, along with his cousin Louis Géraud. At first, police chief Alix Alexandre, perhaps innocently mixing up the attack on Lindor with the earlier one on Duvergé, said Lindor had only been injured. Later, the duty police officer told them a patrol would be leaving any minute. Finally, annoyed by Moreno and Géraud’s insistence, he shouted : "I’m staying here. Leave us alone. I’m not going anywhere."
Géraud and another cousin of Moreno and Brignol, Dominique Jean, then decided to go to the scene of the crime themselves. The attackers had disappeared and they found the body, which they hid elsewhere in the field before returning to town to look for a vehicle. They noticed that the windows of Clédanor’s jeep had been smashed.
In Petit-Goâve, the two cousins persuaded people from the Notre Dame undertakers firm to go with them. They picked up the badly-mutilated corpse and put it in the hearse. They noticed that since they were last there, the jeep had been burned. As they returned to town, they met a vehicle carrying prosecutor Dumerzier, justice of the peace Julien Lenor and police chief Alexandre. The three men examined the body and went back to town as well. Lindor’s body was taken to the Notre Dame funeral home. That evening, an unidentified group of people triumphantly brought his bloodied tie to the offices of radio Echo 2000.
The killers confess : "Brignol was asking for it."
On 5 December, Guyler Delva, secretary-general of the Haitian Journalists’ Association (AJH), did an on-the-spot enquiry. Police chief Alexandre gave him four police escorts "for his own safety." They took him to L’Acul to see the leaders of Domi Nan Bwa. Delva could not identify them because he did not previously know them, except for Duvergé, who had come out of hospital, and Zéphyr Jr, owner of the house where Lindor had tried to take refuge.
The group told Delva, according to a tape of their conversation, that they had "taken part in the lynching not of a journalist but of a member of Convergence called Brignol Lindor. We heard that one of the founders of our organisation [Duvergé] had been attacked with machetes by Convergence supporters," they said. "So we got together at once. And then some Convergence members [Lindor and Clédanor] turned up and terrorised people by firing shots [neither Lindor nor Clédanor had weapons when they went to L’Acul]. The local people went after them and we stoned them and hit them with sticks until one of them, Lindor, stopped breathing."
"We don’t recognise Lindor as a journalist," they said. "He’s a member of Convergence and a customs official who pays people to attack FL members in Petit-Goâve," they told Delva. Duvergé added : "Lindor is a criminal, he was asking for it. He wasn’t killed by one, two or five people. If 10, 15 or 20 people kill someone, nobody should be arrested. He’s dead and gone. Brignol isn’t king, he’s a cheat, a customs official who steals public money and who’s trying to mess up this country. (...) This is why zero tolerance was meted out to him."
A few days later, the recorded confessions of the killers were broadcast by radio stations and Delva gave the information he had gathered to prosecutor Dumerzier, who had taken charge of the case.
"Don’t bother with him, get the journalist"
Love Augustin nearly met the same fate as Brignol Lindor. On 3 December, Augustin, 56, who has a drinks business in the centre of Petit-Goâve, went on his Honda motor-cycle to the small plot of land he owns near L’Acul to gather mangoes and coconuts.
"I was surrounded by about 30 youths with machetes and axes," he said. "They stopped me and shouted ’You’re not Lavalas’ and so on and ’We’re going to kill you.’ They surrounded me and held a machete to my throat. I told them ’I don’t do politics, I don’t do anything, I’m nobody.’ Then a jeep appeared. Joubert, who was clearly the leader, told the group "Don’t bother with him, get the journalist. It’s Brignol Lindor. The councillor [Bony] said ’zero tolerance’ for this journalist.’ Then everyone rushed towards the jeep and stopped it. I escaped as fast as I could and hid about 500 metres away. Then people told me Lindor was dead. I went and told the police."
Lindor’s funeral on 10 December saw an impressive turnout around the church and clashes with pro-Aristide "chimères" (street thugs). Police intervened violently and used tear-gas and only a few people managed to make it to the cemetery for the burial. Moreno Lindor said he and his father had to slip out of the church for fear of being attacked by government supporters.
Only four suspects jailed
In the days after the funeral, prosecutor Dumerzier issued about 20 summonses against people suspected in both the murder of Lindor and the attack on Duvergé. By the end of July this year, only four people suspected in the murder had been jailed - Fritz Doudoute, Ti Florian and Sedner Sanvilus (Ti Lapli) in Petit-Goâve, and Maxi Zéphyr, who was arrested in Port-au-Prince for another matter and who is now in the central prison there. A fifth suspect, Colbert Ambalane, was reportedly detained briefly in early June.
The preliminary legal investigation of the case was finally assigned to Judge Fritzner Duclair, who was unable to get permission to transfer Zéphyr to Petit-Goâve. We hear the judge has almost completed his investigation and the prosecutor nearly has his case ready. Duclair was expected to issue seven arrest warrants in early September but to free Ti Florian and Sainvilus for lack of evidence. The murder charge against Doudoute was expected to be changed to arson, a crime that also has to be tried by the assize court. The three men have reportedly convinced the judge that they were not at the scene of the crime when it happened.
Keeping up appearances
The authorities deny protecting anyone from prosecution. They blame the lack of arrests on the inability of the police to operate in what they say is a virtually lawless neighbourhood whose inhabitants refuse to cooperate and by the fact that the main suspects seem to be in hiding.
They say they have done all they can. President Aristide has personally given Duclair a new Montero Mitsubishi jeep worth 42,000 euros to help him do his job. The local-born police at the Petit-Goâve police station have been transferred to avoid possible complicity with the suspects. Police chief Alexandre has been switched to a desk job at police headquarters in Port-au-Prince, which could be seen as a punishment. The three-member Petit-Goâve town council was forced to resign in early January this year after the angry demonstrations at Lindor’s funeral. The government has appointed in their place three new councillors considered non-political moderates, with order to calm the situation down.
Prosecutor Dumerzier says he has received formal instructions from the ministers of justice and the interior to get the enquiry going, saying that "they themselves had an interest in it making progress." So the situation is moving towards an assizes trial where most of the accused will be tried in their absence.
Passivity and slowness of legal officials and the police
But this has only been for the sake of appearances. Without denying the serious problems involved, including very difficult communications in Petit-Goâve and the meagre resources of police and legal officials, the enquiry into the murder and the preliminary legal investigation have been excessively slow and totally inadequate. This slowness is all the more shocking because Haitians and the outside world, who were appalled by Lindor’s tragic murder, are demanding a serious enquiry by the authorities.
Police took Guyler Delva, two days after the killing, to meet suspects, yet they have since been unable to arrest most of them, even though they know their names. Most have indeed gone into hiding, but some, including Joubert, are regularly seen in Petit-Goâve, even making threats to Lindor’s friends. Seven members of the journalist’s family were also forced to flee the country in April.
The autopsy of the body was done a few days after the murder at the family’s request. The police have made no technical examination of the scene of the crime. Lindor’s family even said in mid-July that police had still not visited the scene. The prosecutor, while admitting the failings of the police, denies this. "We went to L’Acul the very next day, this time with a police patrol. There was nobody there, people’s doors were closed, everyone had fled, there wasn’t even a dog to be seen."
The case was given to the examining magistrate, Judge Duclair, on 8 January this year. But he did not start hearings until a month later and then did not hear several key witnesses, including the suspects identified by local people, those present at the 30 November press conference and those who made independent enquiries such as AJPEG secretary-general Michelène Hilaire. No confrontation with witnesses has taken place, especially between the jailed suspects or between Delva and the people he spoke to from Domi Nan Bwa - Duvergé and Zéphyr Jr. Only about 30 witnesses have been heard in all. Police detectives in Haiti have meagre technical resources, so evidence by witnesses is the key to any investigation.
The Lindor family’s lawyer, Jean-Joseph Exumé, wonders why Judge Duclair is taking so long to formal conclude his investigation and notes that the three-month time-limit (under a 26 July 1979 law) to conduct and publish the results of an investigation has been expired. The slowness of the judge, he says, is even more unreasonable since both the instigators of the murder and those who carried it out have been identified by a variety of sources.
The instigators are put out of reach
No charges are likely to be laid against those who appear to have been the instigators, if not the masterminds, behind the murder of Lindor - those who gave the press conference on 30 November, notably Dumay Bony, the main speaker on the occasion. Legal officials however have a tape of his very explicit remarks, as well as a list of people who attended the press conference in their official capacities.
These include Robinson Desrosiers, director of customs, Jud Laporte, deputy manager of the port, Henri-Claude Leconte, secretary-general of the Petit-Goâve Peasant Movement (MPPG), who is considered leader of the pro-FL grassroots organisations in Petit-Goâve, Roger Mackenzy, the manager of the port, Jean Willio Manéus, manager of Téléco (the phone company), Dufort Milord, the FL member of parliament for Petit-Goâve, and Fritzel Poussin, head of the town’s social affairs office.
All of them are FL sympathisers or well-known FL activists, since Haitian tradition requires that the government name its own supporters to fill all public sector or administrative positions. Jean-Raymond Flory, coordinator of Domi Nan Bwa and a suspect in the murder, was also at the press conference.
The legal authorities do not think what Bony said was in any way an incitement to murder. They say it was just a call to state officials (police and the courts) to carry out a publicly-issued order by the head of state and that "zero tolerance" means no more than strictly obeying the law with regard to criminals. Also, they say, a member of parliament can hardly be prosecuted for asking for the law to be applied.
But according to many observers, Aristide’s appeal for "zero tolerance" is barely-concealed approval of lynching. Jean-Claude Bajeux, head of the Ecumenical Centre for Human Rights (CEDH), is convinced Aristide was calling on people to give suspected criminals the "necklace" treatment, where a person is burned alive or dead with a flaming tyre placed around their neck.
Pierre Espérance, director in Haiti of the US-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), says Bony’s call for "zero tolerance" towards certain people in Petit-Goâve, including Lindor, was, in the Haitian context, "simply a call to kill them." Espérance says "zero tolerance appeals are especially made with reference to political opponents." He noted the statement of the then culture and communications minister, Guy Paul, three days after Lindor’s murder, that "the news editor [Lindor] of Radio Echo 2000 was not killed because he was a journalist but because he was a member of the Democratic Convergence."
Of the suspected instigators of the killing, only Poussin and Bony are thought to have been heard by investigating judge Duclair and Bony only at an informal meeting. There has been no internal enquiry by the interior ministry into the behaviour of local elected officials. Apart from the three-member town council, other suspected instigators of the crime are still in their jobs. One of them, Robinson Desrosiers, the director of customs, has reportedly even been transferred to Port-au-Prince, in what could be seen as a promotion in view of the relative hardships of a job in the provinces. Such treatment of the suspected instigators can only be seen as a flagrant example of the impunity accorded by the regime to its over-zealous supporters.
Corrupt officials and attempts to bribe them ?
During their investigation, the Reporters Without Borders / Damocles team came across a new witness. A resident of Petit-Goâve, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said two top officials and two people allegedly involved in the murder went to L’Acul on 27 or 28 June last to talk to witnesses and participants in the killing with the presumed intent to influence their evidence or bribe them to keep quiet. The witness said they were Privat Précil, director-general of the justice ministry, D’or Monal, one of the suspected killers, Domi Nan Bwa coordinator Flory, another suspect, and Ramilus Bolivar, the FL member of parliament for Côtes de Fer. The group reportedly went to L’Acul in a jeep numbered "Official 0049" and first met Leconte, the town’s pro-FL grassroots organisations chief, at the local school. Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network informed Judge Duclair of this evidence in a letter on 26 August.
Members of Lindor’s family who have taken refuge in France also accuse the authorities of trying to buy their silence after the murder. On 10 December, on the eve of the funeral, Jean-Claude Desgranges, head of President Aristide’s government office, went to the family’s home to present the government’s condolences. Lindor’s brother Moreno says Desgranges offered to find him a job at the presidential palace and give him money "to help" him. The family chased Desgranges out of the house.
Questions also arise about Aristide’s "personal" gift of a jeep to Judge Duclair to "help" him in his investigation. Was this genuine help or an attempt to quietly corrupt him in a matter involving Lavalas government supporters ? The few arrests among the presumed killers and the effective clearing of the instigators are preliminary answers to these questions until the judge’s report appears.
The gift of the jeep highlights the lack of independence of the judiciary from the executive branch in the Haitian system. Investigating judges, theoretically independent, rely for advancement on the country’s president, who appoints them to three-year terms. This prerogative was included in the 1987 national constitution to establish a judge’s authority independently of political parties and government officials. The judge’s power comes only from the head of state, to whom the Constitution only gives a role of referee, since executive power is officially only exercised by the prime minister, who is appointed by a majority in Parliament. In reality, the Constitution is abused and all real power is held by the president, as is the tradition in Haiti.
A plot against Lindor ?
The family and friends of Lindor accuse the government and its local agents of having deliberately instigated his murder. This view appears to have been rejected by both the prosecutor and the investigating judge and the Reporters Without Borders / Damocles team was not able to find any clear evidence to support this theory.
Some say Lindor’s movements could not be foreseen, which weakens the theory of a plot, even though, Lindor’s friends say, one of his colleagues at the customs office could have alerted the killers that he was coming, by going ahead of him on a bicycle. What happened to Love Augustin however suggests the attackers were set on killing whoever came their way and that they were not expecting Lindor. The evidence of Augustin and Clédanor, the only direct witnesses, and the statements of Duvergé however show a clear link between Bony’s explicit order and the killing.
The murder seems to have been a genuine lynching, a form of summary justice common in Haiti, linked to a Haitian phenomenon known as a "kouri" (running), a kind of crowd panic or reaction in which unthinking action cannot be prevented. This "kouri," provoked by the Domi Nan Bwa militants, occurred using the only weapons that rural Haitians usually have to hand - machetes, axes, picks (used to clear a field of pebbles), hoes and also stones. The killers also seem to have tried to burn the body (the burns on both legs), to turn the crime into a "necklacing." It seems significant that no firearms were used. This too suggests that Lindor’s murder was not planned.
Conclusions and recommendations
The investigation by Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network shows that, beyond the chronic lack of resources of the Haitian police and justice system, the local enquiry into Lindor’s death has serious deficiencies. Among these are the absence of any on-the-spot investigation by the judge or the police, the failure by police to execute arrest warrants issued against murder suspects still walking around freely and the judge’s lack of energy in hearing witnesses. The slim results of the local enquiry are all the more shocking because Haitians as a whole, as well as the outside world, were appalled by this macabre killing and have demanded the punishment of those who did it.
The decision of the investigators not to pursue the people who attended the 30 November press conference shows
Zero tolerance for the media : an enquiry into the murder of journalist Brignol Lindor