Reporters Without Borders has said it is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Haiti, where in the past 48-hours nearly a dozen media have been closed or been victims of violence or harassment.
The alarming rise in attacks on press freedom over the past few weeks come as demonstrations spread throughout the country calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"We are deeply concerned about the dangers of the "politics of desperation" on the part of the government, as some deputies of the (ruling) Fanmi Lavalas party are calling on supporters of the beleaguered president to take up arms" said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders.
The international press freedom organisation has urged the authorities to act against those calling for violence and to give very strict orders to government supporters not to resort to violence.
It also urged that Radio Maxima, shut down by police on 17 December, should be compensated as soon as possible and allowed to resume broadcasting.
Various sources agree that on 17 December, police armed with a search warrant entered the premises of Radio Maxima, at Cap-Haïtien in the north, the country’s second largest town, saying they were looking for weapons.
Police officers destroyed some of the radio’s equipment and shut down the station. The watchman was arrested. Elsewhere in the same town Radio Vision 2000, which is run from Port-au-Prince, had its local aerial emblem destroyed at around 8.00 in the morning. The radio suspended broadcasts until the end of the day. Several other Cap-Haitien radios also pulled their news programmes on the same day.
The previous evening, unidentified gunmen had fired shots at Radio Maxima. These attacks followed statements made at the beginning of the week by Fanmi Lavalas deputy, Nawoom Marcellus, who threatened to "forcibly" deal with the station’s head Jean-Robert Lalanne. Intruders also attacked the premises of Radio Vision 2000 in Cap-Haïtien.
Still on 17 December, gunmen travelling in a vehicle owned by a state-run company in Port-au-Prince threatened several journalists, including Josué Jean and Wendy Richard of Radio Vision 2000. Both men referred to the attacks as murder attempts.
Radio Ibo reported that two of its journalists, Hans Pierre-Louis and Patrick Chéry, were chased through the streets of Port-au-Prince by government supporters. Leaflets have been distributed in the capital threatening a blood bath if Aristide were to go.
On 16 December, Richard was threatened with violence on the air by Jean-Marie Perrier, nicknamed "Pa Pé Chay", head of a people’s organisation (OP - armed civilian militia) close to Fanmi Lavalas who terrorise people in the south of the country. Perrier also threatened Marie-Lucie Bonhomme, editorial director of Radio Vision 2000, Valéry Numa, of the same radio, and Lilianne Pierre-Paul and Sony Bastien, of Radio Kiskeya.
Fanmi Lavalas deputy Marcellus spoke on Radio Guinen on 16 December to accuse the same journalists of seeking the resignation of Aristide. He also accused the journalists of using violent language and called on the national Haitian media association (ANMH) to take disciplinary steps against them.
Police superintendent Ricardo Etienne clubbed Fegentz Calès Paul, of Radio Antilles, on 16 December as he covered a demonstration calling for the resignation of the president in the east of the capital. The radio’s boss Jacques Sampeur, said that a band of around 40 ’chimeras’ (pro-government thugs) had already besieged the radio on 12 December and threatened to set it on fire. The journalists were trapped inside from 7am to 2pm.
The 17 December attack against Radio Maxima was the third against the station in less than two months. On 25 November two gunmen burst into the Cap-Haïtien home of boss Jean Robert Lalanne shooting and wounding him. On late October, the radio station temporarily suspended its news broadcasts after receiving threats, it said, from pro-government sources. Lalanne is also secretary general of the Northern Front party, a coalition of several opposition groupings.
Calls to violence
According to Radio Métropole, Lavalas deputies Nawoom Marcellus and Wilnet Content urged supporters of Aristide to prepare their weapons in a broadcast on 14 December on both Africa and Négritude radios. Radio Metropole said that this call was condemned by Mario Dupuy, Secretary of State for Communications, who nevertheless did not announce any sanctions against the two deputies.
Communications minister Lilas Desquiron, called on the media on 12 December to adopt a "responsible attitude". She denounced a "disinformation campaign" by several media and denied they had been threatened.
On 11 December, Radio Vision 2000, Radio Métropole, Radio Caraibes and Radio Kiskeya interrupted broadcasts after receiving threats from Artistide supporters. The suspensions followed statements by Marcellus, who on the same day accused certain media of being financed by the United States and broadcasting anti-government propaganda. The deputy pledged to carry out "the appropriate response" and called on the president’s supporters to take up arms. The four radio stations resumed broadcasting on 12 December. For Liliane Pierre-Paul, head of Radio Kiskeya, the government is taking issue with the media simply for reporting on the events taking place in the country.
Armed men were spotted in a Suzuki jeep on 6 December in front of the home of Nancy Roc, of Radio Métropole. Witnesses quoted by the journalist said they made no attempt to hide and remained parked there throughout the morning of the 7 December. Roc believe this intimidation was linked to the outspokenness of the programme "Métropolis" that she presents on Radio Métropole. Shots had been fired and bottles thrown at her mother’s home last February by thugs who also shouted abuse against the journalist.
On 5 December, Rodson Josselin, journalist for the on-line news agency Haïti Press Network, was attacked by a group of Aristide supporters who clubbed him on the arms while he was covering a student demonstration against the president. He was also threatened. At least two other journalists, including Vénèl Casséus, reporter for Radio Kiskeya, were slightly injured in stone-throwing. A total of 25 people were assaulted, including the rector of the university who had both legs broken.
On 25 November, a human head was found on a refuse heap in the centre of Port-au-Prince, surrounded by leaflets threatening reprisals against some members of the opposition, of civil society and the press. Among the journalists named were Lilianne Pierre-Paul, Marie-Lucie Bonhomme, Valéry Numa, Jean-Robert Lalanne and François Rotchild Junior, of Radio Métropole.
Men armed with sub-machine guns opened fire on the offices of the commercial radio station Radio Caraïbes at Port-au-Prince on 28 October. Nobody was hurt but the front of the building was badly damaged as well as a car belonging to a sports commentator at the radio, Harold Domond. Witnesses said the car used by the assailants had an official number plate. Editorial boss Jean-Elie Moléus, said that the station had been receiving regular threats. Radio Caraïbes was forced to temporarily suspend its broadcasts.