Impunity was still the rule in Haiti in 2002. No new arrests were made in the investigations into the deaths of Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor. In the Dominique case, the investigating judge kept on being changed. As soon as judge Claudy Gassant was taken off the case in January, the senate rejected his demand for senator Dany Toussaint to be stripped of his parliamentary immunity. Toussaint is one of the leaders of Fanmi Lavalas, President Aristide’s party. In the Lindor case, the investigating judge spared Petit-Goâve deputy mayor Dumay Bony in his final report although Bony had issued what was tantamount to a call for Lindor’s murder.
The killers were not only left unmolested by the judicial authorities in both cases, they were able to impose their own law on the families of the victims. Lindor’s father and six brothers and sisters were forced to leave the country because of threats. Dominique’s widow Michèle Montas, who had constantly been demanding justice for her husband for more than two years, was the target of a Christmas Day murder attempt in which the perpetrators killed one of the security guards protecting her home.
The press in general continued to be the target of threats from government supporters, especially from the "popular organisations," a network of informal armed militia with the job of spreading terror in the ranks of the government’s detractors. President Aristide’s statements at the end of September likening current press criticism to the 1991 coup d’etat was widely interpreted as being a message to the popular organisations to target the press. Louis Joinet, the UN Commission on Human Rights independent expert on Haiti, said there was a fear that, "tomorrow, the only options for the critical journalist in Haiti will be self-censorship, exile or death."
At least 40 journalists were physically attacked or threatened in 2002. The Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH) put the figure at more than 60. Some had reported on the collapse of the cooperative savings schemes in 2002, which ruined tens of thousands of small savers and in which the government was allegedly implicated at the highest level. It was amid such scandals that Israël Jacky Cantave of Caraïbes FM was kidnapped in July in what Cantave viewed as a government warning to the press. After Cantave was threatened and forced into exile, a warrant was issued for his arrest for not cooperating with investigators.
The year ended with demonstrations demanding President Aristide’s resignation and growing tension, in which journalists paid the price. Seven journalists had to go into hiding in Gonaïves after covering one of the first big anti-government demonstrations. They were threatened by the Cannibal Army, a "popular organisation" led by Amiot Métayer which terrorized this northern town ever since Métayer broke out of prison in August 2002. After initially promising to rearrest him, the government apparently preferred to use him as a blunt instrument against its opponents.
Métayer had been arrested because of his violent attacks on the opposition during a supposedly spontaneous reaction to what was portrayed as an attempted coup d’etat on 17 December 2001. An Organisation of American States (OAS) enquiry published in July concluded not only that it was not a coup d’etat but also that police officers were accomplices to the attack staged on the presidential palace. The enquiry also stressed that the ensuing violence against the opposition had been carried with logistic support from the authorities. Those targeted on 17 December 2001 included some 10 journalists who afterwards went into exile. The increasingly discredited government could try to repeat this kind of operation, in which it poses as the victim in order to have a pretext for cracking down on the opposition and press.
In view of the serious situation in Haiti, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of predators of press freedom.
New information on journalists killed before 2002
Fritzner Duclair, the judge in charge of investigating the murder of journalist Brignol Lindor, issued his conclusions on 16 September 2002, charging 10 members of Dòmi Nan Bwa, a local group linked to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas which had claimed responsibility for the murder. However, he did not charge former Petit-Goâve deputy mayor Dumay Bony, who had called for the use of "zero tolerance" against the "terrorist" Lindor three days before his murder. A witness said the perpetrators had cited this statement at the moment of killing Lindor as their justification for acting. Moreover, an enquiry carried out on site by Reporters Without Borders found that about 20 people took part in Lindor’s murder.
The investigating judge’s conclusions did not dispel the concern about claims that Fanmi Lavalas members suborned witnesses to cover up the case. Two of the accused, Maxi Zéphyr and Fritzler Doudoute, were arrested but in connection with other cases. Zéphyr was held in the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince where the authorities repeatedly refused to transfer him to Petit-Goâve for questioning by Judge Duclair. From France, Lindor’s family appealed against the judge’s conclusions in an attempt to keep the investigation going. Lindor’s father and six brothers and sisters had fled the country after receiving threats. The family’s lawyer, Denis Laguerre, and a cousin, Louis Géraud, had to go into hiding on the first anniversary of Lindor’s death.
A journalist with the Petit-Goâve radio station Echo 2000, Lindor was stoned and hacked to death with machetes on 3 December 2001 by Dòmi Nan Bwa members who later claimed responsibility for the killing in the presence of a representative of the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH). Three days before his murder, Petit-Goâve leaders affiliated to Fanmi Lavalas gave a press conference in which deputy mayor Bony used the term "zero tolerance," established by President Aristide as a watchword for the police in their treatment of criminals and widely viewed as implicitly endorsing summary execution and lynching. Two days before the press conference, Lindor had invited opposition leaders to take part in his programme "Dialogue."
Seconds after Radio Haïti Inter director Michèle Montas (the widow of journalist Jean Dominique) returned home on 25 December, two gunmen opened fire outside the house, killing one of the guards posted outside, Maxime Séide. Montas thought they had probably been waiting near her home to kill her on her arrival, and had been thwarted by her last-minute change of route. In her view, the attack was organised by persons who feared that they could be named in the concluding report on the investigation into Dominique’s death, which the judge had promised to issue before the end of 2002.
The year did not produce any significant progress in the investigation. On 4 January, President Aristide decided not to renew Claudy Gassant’s mandate as the investigating judge in charge of the case. Stripped of any protection, Gassant immediately fled to the United States. On 23 January, President Aristide entrusted the investigation to a trio of judges. A week later, the senate finally rejected the request Gassant had made in August 2001 for it to lift the parliamentary immunity of Fanmi Lavalas senator Dany Toussaint, claiming that Gassant’s request was incomplete and requesting additional information from the new judges. Under national and international pressure, Aristide reversed his decision in April and reassigned the case to Gassant. Now in exile in the United States, Gassant declined. The case was then entrusted to judge Bernard Saint-Vil, who began questioning new witnesses.
A government report to the OAS that was released on 4 November was extremely critical of the way the investigation had been conducted, questioning the work of Gassant, who had nonetheless been viewed as committed to the task and thorough by outside observers. Meanwhile, Saint-Vil was summoning persons for questioning who had never before been questioned, suggesting that the investigation was moving away from the leads which had identified Sen. Toussaint as the main suspect. The director of Radio Haïti Inter until his death, Dominique was gunned down in the courtyard of the station on 3 April 2000 along with Jean-Claude Louissaint, the station’s caretaker. In his radio commentaries, Dominique had taken issue with those within Fanmi Lavalas who were diverting the movement from its principles of "justice, transparency and participation," and he had been exceptionally critical of Sen. Toussaint, one of the movement’s most influential leaders, in an editorial on 19 October 1999.
Three journalists imprisoned
Genet Morin of radio Magik Stereo in Port-au-Prince was detained on 9 February 2002 in a police operation in which eight opposition members were arrested. "The police told me I had been arrested for participating in political meetings aimed at destabilising the country during carnival (9-13 February)," Morin said. The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), one of the leading human rights organisations, said the police had fabricated the accusation just to put pressure on people who "disagree with the government." Morin was released on 15 February.
Darwin Saint Julien of the weekly Haïti Progrès and Allan Deshommes of Radio Atlantik were badly wounded and then arrested by police along with five other persons on 27 May as they were covering a peasants’ demonstration in Saint Raphaël (Nord department). Although in a serious condition, the two journalists were not hospitalised, and were placed in prison. Saint Raphaël mayor Adonija Sévère called the demonstrators and the journalists "terrorists" but they were never informed of any charges. Saint Julien and Deshommes were released on 9 June.
A journalist arrested
Jeanty André Omilert, a correspondent for Radio Solidarité in Mirebalais (northeast of the capital in Centre department) and a reporter for the local Radio Excelsior, was arrested on 20 March 2002 on the orders of the local prosecutor, who considered Omilert had defamed him in a report. He was released the next day after an AJH delegation intervened.
A journalist kidnapped
Israël Jacky Cantave of radio Caraïbes FM and a friend, Frantz Ambroise, were abducted by thugs on 15 July 2002 and were found the next day, bound and half-naked. They said they had been mistreated by their captors. Cantave said he had been receiving anonymous threats during the week before his kidnapping, which he viewed as a warning not just to Caraïbes FM, one of the leading, privately-owned radio stations in Port-au-Prince, but also to all the press that dared to criticise the government. He continued to receive threats in the days following his abduction and went into hiding. A month later, the director of the investigative branch of the police, Jeannot François, said he did not exclude the possibility that Cantave had fabricated the abduction. Fearing for his safety, Cantave left Haiti on 29 August and his friend Ambroise followed shortly thereafter. A warrant for their arrest was issued on 19 December for failing to respond to the summonses for questioning issued by investigators.
15 journalists physically attacked
Mathieu Prud’homme, a Candian journalism student working as a trainee with the online news agency Haïti Press Network (HPN), sustained gunshot injuries on 21 January 2002 as he was investigating criminal gangs in Cité Soleil, the capital’s largest shanty-town. Police had told him it was impossible for them to ensure his safety in the neighbourhood.
Rigaud Xavier, the mayor of the Grand-Goâve (southwest of the capital in Ouest department), slapped Joseph Claudy Milord of the local radio station Radio Saca during a hearing in the town’s courthouse on 20 August. The mayor was angry with the station for reporting his alleged involvement in fraudulent property deals.
Rodson Josselin, a reporter with the online news agency Haïti Press Network, was manhandled and thrown to the ground by police on 19 September as he was taking photographs of a police operation involving the use of excessive force. He was taken to the police sub-station in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Martissant where police hit him and took his equipment.
Péguy Jean and Joël Joseph of Radio Maxima, a radio station in Cap-Haïtien (Nord department), were physically attacked by members of pro-government popular organisations over a period of days after they reported on a major opposition demonstration calling for President Aristide’s resignation in Cap-Haïtien on 17 November.
Jean-Robert Robenson Exinord, a reporter with the state-owned TV broadcaster Télévision Nationale d’Haïti (TNH), and his cameraman Pedro Edouard were attacked in Port-au-Prince on 5 December by students protesting against the Aristide government. Accusing the state-run media of never carrying their statements, the students hit them and damaged their equipment.
Ronald Mongé Farreau of the TV station Télé Timoun, owned by President Aristide, was set upon by supporters of the opposition Convergence Démocratique coalition as he was covering an opposition protest calling for Aristide’s resignation on 17 December.
23 journalists threatened
It was reported on 18 January 2002 that Charité André and Rémi Jean of Radio Eben-Ezer, a radio station in Mirebalais (Centre department), Duc Jonathan Joseph, a Radio Métropole correspondent in Gonaïves (Artibonite department), and Ernst Océan, a Vision 2000 correspondent in Saint-Marc (Artibonite department), had taken refuge in Port-au-Prince because threats against them by Fanmi Lavalas supporters had increased after the supposed coup attempt of 17 December 2001. Océan, whose home town Saint-Marc is the stronghold of an especially militant popular organisation called Bale Wouze ("Sweep Clean"), left Haiti for the United States shortly thereafter. Another correspondent based in Saint-Marc, Jean-Marie Maillard of Radio Métropole, had already had to leave the country in December 2001. In the course of January, two other journalists went into exile in similar circumstances: Zacharie Nazaire, Vision 2000’s correspondent in Les Cayes (Sud department) and Samuel Trézil, Caraïbes FM editor in Port-au-Prince.
Radio Signal FM, which is based in the capital, reported on 24 January that one of the station’s cars had been hit by a presidential palace vehicle, whose occupants got out and threatened the four persons aboard the Signal FM vehicle at gunpoint: Roosevelt Benjamin, Evelyne Dacilus, Jean-Claude Saint-Cyr and Carl Dieudonné. The station said it thought the incident was premeditated. The presidential palace said the report was a complete fabrication.
Bidry Dorsainvil of Radio Voix de l’Ave Maria in Cap-Haïtien (Nord department) was forced to go into hiding on 19 March after thugs assumed to be working for Lou Alabré, the head of security at the city’s port, turned up at his home. Dorsainvil had reported on a dispute between Alabré and the port workers union.
Jean Robert François, Radio Métropole’s correspondent in Gonaïves (Artibonite department) was threatened on 8 September by Fanmi Lavalas supporters who said his coverage was harming the government. He went into hiding after learning that he was one of several journalists who had been blacklisted by Fanmi Lavalas supporters.
A leaflet circulating in Port-au-Prince at the end of September threatened a number of journalists with the same fate as Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor if they continued to "denigrate the country." The targeted journalists were Jean Elie Moléus and Prisca Jean Vilfort of Caraïbes FM, Roosevelt Benjamin, Patrick Luc, Jean-Louis Négot and Carl Dieudonné of Signal FM, Valéry Numa and Marie-Lucie Bonhomme of Vision 2000, and Goudou Jean Numa of Radio Métropole.
Seven radio journalists and radio technicians based in Gonaïves sought refuge in Port-au-Prince on 30 November. They were Radio Entincelle manager Esdras Mondelus and three of his staff (Renais Noël Jeune, Jean Niton Guérino and Gédéon Présandieu), Henry Fleurimond of Radio Kiskeya, René Josué of Signal FM and Jean-Robert François of Radio Métropole. They had been in hiding in Gonaïves since 21 November. They said they had received threats from pro-Fanmi Lavalas organisations because of their coverage of opposition demonstrations demanding the departure of President Aristide. A store room at Radio Etincelle containing one of the station’s generators had been destroyed in a fire on 24 November. "The government uses armed bands to persecute journalists," Mondelus said, referring to the Cannibal Army, a gang led by Amiot Métayer that was supporting Fanmi Lavalas.
Pressure and obstruction
Several dozen members of popular organisations allied with Fanmi Lavalas protested on 11 January 2002 outside the Port-au-Prince hotel where Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard and AJH secretary-general Guy Delva were giving a press conference to hold the authorities responsible for the failure to arrest and try the murderers of two journalists. To shouts of "Down with Ménard," some of the protesters led by Aristide associate Paul Raymond forced their way into the hotel’s garden, disrupting the press conference. Raymond accused Ménard of distributing firearms in several districts of the capital in order to destabilize the country. In the course of the next few days, Delva was threatened by the head of Bale Wouze, a pro-Fanmi Lavalas popular organisation based in Saint-Marc (Artibonite department) with being necklaced (lynched by means of a burning tyre placed over the head) if he came to Saint-Marc. René Civil, another Aristide associate, accused Delva of "betraying his Haitian compatriots" and of being "in the pay of the foreigners." Ives-Marie Chanel, the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in Haiti, was the target of a campaign of vilification by the state-owned radio broadcaster.
Radio Eben-Ezer in Mirebalais (Centre department) suspended it broadcasting in mid-January because of the climate of insecurity. The radio station said it had received many threats from people taking issue with news reporting that was critical of the authorities.
Police ransacked the studios of Limonade FM in the locality of Limonade, about 10 km. from the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, on 2 September when they went looking for the station’s owner and manager, John Pierre, who had criticised the government and implicated the local police in a financial scandal.
Privately-owned Radio Kiskeya in Port-au-Prince suspended broadcasting on 26 September after being told it could be the target of an arson attack because of its coverage of the arrest of a civil society activist who had pointed a finger at the government in a major financial scandal. Another Port-au-Prince radio station, Caraïbes FM, also suspending broadcasting for several hours the same day in protest against the threats it had received, apparently coming from pro-government organisations. The next day, Roger Damas of Radio Ibo was accosted as he arrived at his radio station by three thugs who threatened to set the station on fire. Radio Kiskeya resumed broadcasting on the evening of 27 September.
Radio Maxima in Cap-Haïtien (Nord department) suspended its news programmes on 1 December after its journalists received threats from Aristide supporters during a pro-government demonstration.