Reporters Without Borders has expressed deep concern after programmes were blacked out at eight radio stations and a television channel after their transmitters were deliberately sabotaged.
"We call on the authorities to carry out an exhaustive investigation of these acts of sabotage and to inform us of their conclusions" said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders.
"This kind of attack against press freedom is without precedent in Haiti. We fear that it will only be repeated unless the perpetrators are punished," he said. "Once again it is for the government of President Aristide to put an end to its complicity in attacks against the press," he added.
A commando of several armed and hooded men arrived at premises at Bouthillier on the heights of Port-au-Prince on 13 January and destroyed transmitters belonging to eight radios of a variety of different political tendencies.
They tied up watchman Beyou Vil before destroying the equipment with sledgehammers. Vil, afterwards described the 15-minute raid, for which no-one has yet admitted responsibility. He said the saboteurs were travelling in a four-wheel drive vehicle.
The radios whose transmitters were destroyed were: Radio Commerciale, Radio Plus, Radio Kiskeya, Magic Stereo, Signal FM, Mélodie FM, Radio Ti Moun et Radio Galaxie. The radios were all forced to halt programmes. The transmitter of Tele Ti Moun television was also destroyed.
Owner of the site and of Magic Stereo radio, Fritz Joassaint, said the cost of the damage amounted to more than 400,000 dollars (315,000 euros). It would take around ten days to repair.
Among the radios attacked, Signal FM and Radio Kiskeya had provided detailed coverage of opposition demonstrations organised in the past few weeks, demanding the resignation of President Aristide. Liliane Pierre-Paul, manager of Radio Kiskeya, accused the government of being "responsible for these incidents in that it has led a campaign of hate and vilification against the independent press."
Radio Commerciale and Mélodie FM are seen as being close to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party. Radio and Tele Ti Moun are owned by the President Artistide Democracy Foundation. Marvel Dandin of Radio Kiskeya, said he thought the destruction of their transmitters could be accounted for by the fact there is no way to tell the difference between the different transmitters at the site.
Six journalists from Radio and Television Ti Moun had to leave the country at the beginning of December 2003 after making revelations about the running of the media. In particular they accused the management of deliberately making them take risks so that President Aristide would be able to count journalists from the pro-government media as among those who had been killed. Two journalists have been killed in Haiti since April 2000. In both cases no action was taken against the suspects who were close to the government.