Reporters Without Borders said today it was outraged by the just-announced result of the enquiry into the killing of Haiti’s best known journalist, Jean Dominique (see photo), because it only named those who carried out the murder and not those who ordered it.
"The authorities are trying to tell us there was nobody behind this crime, just as they did in the killing of journalist Brignol Lindor," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "After three years of investigation, and only a few days before the third anniversary of Dominique’s death on 3 April, the enquiry report is simply an insult to all those fighting for justice in Haiti."
The investigating judge, Bernard Saint-Vil, reportedly sent his 33-page indictment in the case to the state prosecutor on 21 March.
""How can it be that individuals accused by the previous investigating judge, Claudy Gassant (see photo) - people such as Sen. Dany Toussaint and several of his associates - have disappeared from the list of people to be charged with this crime?" asked Ménard.
"Nobody is fooled by this result. Ever since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was re-elected in 2000, his government has been preparing a whitewash of Toussaint."
Judge Gassant was forced to flee abroad after indicting Toussaint, an ally of Aristide, and the Haitian senate rejected the judge’s request for Toussaint’s parliamentary immunity to be lifted so the case against him could proceed.
"The investigation report is also bad news for all Haitian media that criticise the government," said the press freedom organisation. "It sends a message to the enemies of press freedom that they have nothing to fear from the judiciary." President Aristide is on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of 41 "predators of press freedom" for giving government cover to those who physically attack and kill journalists.
Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, who has run his radio station, Radio Haiti Inter, since he was killed, told Reporters Without Borders that the investigation report was "disgraceful" and that she would appeal against it.
A report that clears Sen. Toussaint and his associates
Judge Saint-Vil has indicted six people: Dymsley Millien ("Tilou") for murder and Jeudi Jean Daniel ("Guimy"), Philippe Markington, Ralph Léger, Ralph Joseph and Freud Junior Desmarrates for being accomplices. All are currently in prison.
Dr. Alix Charles, Benjamin Delano, lawyer Ephesien Joassaint, Sen. Toussaint (photo), his bodyguard Franck Joseph and his "right-hand man" Richard Salomon were not charged because, the judge said, "there is not enough clear evidence of their responsibility or complicity in the murder."
A Reporters Without Borders investigation ("Who killed Jean Dominique?"), published a year after the murder, cited Charles, Delano, Joassaint, Salomon and Toussaint in connection with the mysterious death of Jean Wilner Lalanne, who was suspected of being the link between the organisers of the murder and those who carried it out.
Lalanne died in June 2000 during an operation for a buttock wound received during his arrest. He was operated on by Dr Charles, an orthopaedic surgeon, helped by Dr Delano, even though he had asked for another surgeon. Charles said he died of a pulmonary embolism, but this was contradicted by an autopsy. Two months later, by the time a new autopsy had been ordered, Lalanne’s body had unaccountably disappeared from the morgue.
The Reporters Without Borders investigation highlighted the links between Toussaint, Charles and Lalanne. Jean-Claude Nord, Toussaint’s lawyer, had recommended Joassaint to Lalanne as a lawyer. Joassaint then asked Charles to do the operation. Charles was known to be a friend of Salomon. Toussaint has always denied knowing Lalanne but a witness said Joseph, his bodyguard, had met him.
The report said investigators had concluded the murder was planned in the course of several meetings. In November 2001, a second important suspect, Panel Rénélus, was lynched by a mob after being arrested by police. Judge Gassant, who was at the scene, said police handed him over to the mob.
An enquiry hampered by many obstacles
The outspoken Dominique, Haiti’s best-known journalist and political commentator, was killed in the courtyard of his radio station on 3 April 2000. He had criticised all sides - supporters of the former Duvalier family dictatorship, ex-military figures, members of the country’s wealthy families and those he suspected in President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party of wanting to turn the organisation away from its original principles.
The murder investigation was assigned in September 2000 to Judge Gassant after his predecessor, Judge Jean-Sénat Fleury, had resigned after receiving threats. Legal sources said on 28 May 2001 that Toussaint had been charged with the murder. Gassant fled to the United States after his mandate expired on 3 January 2002 and was not immediately renewed by Aristide (see photo). He had been repeatedly harassed after indicting Toussaint. Since July last year, the investigation has been in the hands of Judge Saint-Vil.
For the past three years, virtually all state institutions have obstructed the murder enquiry. The justice ministry never gave Judge Gassant adequate protection despite threats to him. Police refused to carry our arrest warrants and were accused of handing over leading suspect Rénélus to the mob that lynched him. The senate refused to lift Toussaint’s parliamentary immunity.
Dominique’s widow was the target of an apparent attempt to kill her at her home last December 25, in which one of her bodyguards, Maxime Séide, was shot dead. She took the attack as a warning to all those involved in the murder investigation.
On 21 February this year, Michèle Montas (see photo) announced the station was going off the air because of many threats to its staff. "Three of our people have already been killed and we don’t want to lose anyone else," she said. The radio’s journalists and technical staff wrote to the management on 1 February expressing their great concern about many incidents since the beginning of the year.
Montas said the station was only closing temporarily and would resume operations when the situation was more secure.