Esdras Mondélus (head of Radio Etincelle), Henry Fleurimond (Radio Kiskeya), Renais Noël Jeune, Jean Niton Guérino and Gédéon Présandieu (all reporters with Radio Etincelle) (left to right in AP photo), as well as René Josué (Signal FM) and Jean-Robert François (Radio Métropole) took refuge in Port-au-Prince on 30 November.
The seven, all based in Gonaives, had been in hiding there since 21 November, first at the bishop’s house, which they were forced to leave on 28 November by Church officials who feared it would be attacked. The next day, the hotel they had moved to was fired at by members of the Cannibal Army, an armed group close to the country’s ruling Fanmi Lavalas party. The journalists then fled to the northern city of Cap Haitien and the next day flew to Port-au-Prince with the help of the Haitian Journalists’ Association (AJH).
They had been threatened by the leader of the Cannibal Army, Amiot Métayer, for their reporting of demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Métayer was prosecuted for physically attacking opposition supporters in December last year. He escaped from prison in August this year and the government says it has not rearrested him so as to avoid a bloodbath. The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) said on 29 November that the Cannibal Army was terrorising Gonaives, that the police had virtually disappeared and that two other journalists there, Frantz Renel Lebrun (Radio Ibo) and Eric Julien (Caraïbes FM), were forced to go into hiding.
"The government uses armed bands to persecute journalists," Mondélus told the Associated Press (AP), and the groups in Gonaives were coordinating with those in Port-au-Prince and got their orders from Aristide. He told Reporters Without Borders that after he and his colleagues had left the town, it no longer had any credible media, since apart from Radio Etincelle, the other stations broadcast just music, while Radio Indépendante, a pro-Fanmi Lavalas station, had suspended its news programmes.
AP reported that the Cap Haitien station Radio Maxima suspended its news programmes on 1 December after its journalists had received threats from Aristide supporters during a pro-government demonstration. The AJH said 64 journalists had been threatened so far this year, 62 of them by the government and two by the opposition.
26.11.2002 - A radio station set on fire and nine journalistes threatened in the north
Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the attacks against the press in recent days in Haiti, especially in the north of the country, where a radio station was partially torched and nine journalists were threatened. The organisation called on President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (photo) to condemn these acts of intimidation and attacks, for which his supporters have been held responsible.
"We urge you to give your supporters clear instructions to stop attacking the news media," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in an appeal to the Haitian president. He also reiterated an earlier appeal to President Aristide to put an end to impunity by giving orders for investigations that result in the punishment of those responsible for attacks and threats against journalists.
The premises of Radio Etincelle in Gonaïves (155 kms north-west of Port-au-Prince) and its equipment were partially damaged by a fire on the evening of 24 November, apparently started by Molotov cocktails thrown by unidentified assailants. Several days earlier, after covering an opposition demonstration, Radio Etincelle director Esdras Mondélus received death threats by telephone from members of popular organisations close to the ruling Lavalas Family party, as a result of which he suspended programming on 21 and 22 November.
In separate circumstances in Gonaïves, members of popular organisations made death threats against Mondélus and six other journalists including Radio Métropole correspondent Jean Robert François, Radio Kiskeya correspondent Fleurimont Henry and Radio Ibo correspondent Frantz Rénel Lebrun. The seven journalists were forced to go into hiding.
Several days earlier in Cap Haïtien (200 kms north of Port-au-Prince), Radio Maxima journalists Péguy Jean et Joël Joseph were attacked by popular organisation members who avowed support for the Lavalas government and criticised Radio Maxima’s coverage of an opposition protest that took place in Cap Haïtien on 17 November.
According to journalists present at this demonstration in Cap Haïtien (Haiti’s second largest city), more than 20,000 people took part, calling for the departure of President Aristide. A separate, pro-government demonstration was held in Cap Haïtien the same day. Haiti has been tense ever since. Further anti-government protests have taken place in other provincial cities, followed by pro-government demonstrations in Port-au-Prince. According to the Associated Press, six persons were hit by gunfire during pro-government and opposition demonstrations on 25 November in Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves.