Seven journalists have come under attack in a bloody increase in assaults on the media, as an uprising spread in Haiti.
One journalist was shot and badly injured and six others have been assaulted covering demonstrations. Three radio stations have been torched.
Reporters Without Borders called on government and opposition supporters to take all necessary steps to end these attacks.
On 21 february, Pierre Eli Sem, owner and manager of Radio Hispagnola in Trou du Nord (27 kms southeast of Cap-Haïtien) and correspondent for the private radio station Radio Métropole in the northeast, was in his car when thugs forced their way in and shot him several times, seriously injuring him in the neck and legs. He was described as out of danger.
Elie Sem said he had been threatened for several days since he had begun broadcasting news from Radio Métropole on Radio Hispagnola. He decided to broadcast Radio Métropole news bulletins after the management of Radio Cap-Haïtien suspended the bulletins following threats from supporters of the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party.
The following day the offices of Radio Hispagnola in Trou du Nord were torched by supporters of the former deputy Nahoum Marcellus. The commando was driven off by anti-government rebels, who arrived on the scene having taking the town of Cap-Haïtien. Groups of demonstrators, protected by the rebels, then began ransacking and setting fire to Radio Africa and Radio Télé Kombit (RTK), belonging respectively to Nahoum Marcellus and Jose Ulysse, a member of President Aristide’s inner cabinet.
Other journalists were targeted on 20 February, including several foreigners. Claude Bellevue of Radio Ibo, was hit in the back by shell fragments fired from a 12 calibre gun when he was covering a peaceful demonstration by students in Port-au-Prince. He was attacked by armed groups supporting President Aristide. During the same demonstration a Spanish cameraman suffered an ear injury as a result of a machete blow and a photographer with Agence France-Presse (AFP) was also injured, the agency said.
Associated Press (AP), reported that Roberto Andrade, of the Mexican television channel Televisa, and another reporter working for the Mexican network TV Azteca, had to flee when they were stoned by militants, who then chased and caught up with them and forced them to hand over their film.
Foreign reporters have recently reported several incidents of having equipment seized after witnessing events that reflected badly on the government of Aristide or his supporters.
AP reported that one of its photographers was forced to wipe pictures from the memory of his digital camera and a cameraman from the channel APTN was forced to hand over tapes.
These targeted attacks against the foreign press are new. According to the same source this harassment came after the president called on journalists, whom he addressed on 21 February, to show the world how Haitians were ready to fight to defend their democracy.