Police inspector Jean-Michel Gaspard was arrested on 28 March on suspicion of being involved in an attack on an opposition demonstration on 7 March in which seven people were killed, including Spanish journalist Ricardo Ortega, of the TV station Antena 3. A local human rights official quoted police investigators as saying that the day before the protest he had taken part in a meeting to plan an attack on it.
Gaspard was the second person arrested in the case. Yvon Antoine, a supporter of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was picked up on 22 March, and was also being investigated for an attack on state university officials on 5 December last year.
8.03.2004 - Spanish journalist killed, US photographer injured
Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the situation in Haiti after Spanish TV journalist Ricardo Ortega was killed and US news photographer Michael Laughlin was injured in shooting yesterday in Port-au-Prince.
"We express our condolences to Ricardo Ortega’s family and we reiterate our appeal to all the parties on the ground not to target the press," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.
"Unfortunately, the safety of journalists in Haiti will not be guaranteed as long as armed militia are free to operate without any control by a recognised central authority," the organisation added, calling for an investigation into the origin of the shots in order to identify and punish those responsible.
A visiting correspondent for the Spanish TV station Antena 3, Ortega (photo) was fatally shot while covering a demonstration by opponents of former President Aristide. Enrique Ibañez of the Spanish news agency EFE said shooting broke out as the demonstration was dispersing. In all, at least six people were killed and about 30 were injured. Witnesses said the shots were fired by Aristide supporters, known as chimères. The demonstrators had been calling for Aristide followers to be brought to trial.
Ortega did not die immediately. After being shot, he took refuge in a nearby house with Laughlin, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel photographer, who had also just been injured by shots. Laughlin said Ortega continued to film footage with his video camera after being hit.
The two were taken to the Canapé Vert hospital in Port-au-Prince where Ortega died from his bullet injuries, one to the chest and one to the abdomen. Laughlin, who was hit in the shoulder and face, is to be evacuated to a Florida hospital, South Florida Sun-Sentinel spokesperson Kevin Courtney told Reuters.
The Associated Press (AP) said the international peacekeepers were unable to say where the shots came from. US and French peacekeepers had accompanied the marchers until they reached the Champs de Mars square opposite the presidential palace. Agence France-Presse (AFP) said the presence of the peacekeepers proved ineffective at preventing the outbreak of gunfire as the march dispersed. The AP said no arrests were made.
Aged 37, Ortega began his press career as an EFE correspondent in Moscow. He then freelanced for Antena 3 before joining its staff in 1994. He covered the war in Chechnya and the September 11 attacks in New York, where he was a resident correspondent at the time. He also covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although on vacation, he volunteered to go and cover the crisis in Haiti. The Spanish embassy in Port-au-Prince took custody of his body pending repatriation to Spain later today.
Several foreign journalists have been targeted by Aristide supporters in recent weeks. An AFP photographer was reportedly wounded on 20 February while covering a peaceful student demonstration in Port-au-Prince. According to the AP, Roberto Andrade of the Mexican TV channel Televisa and two other journalists working for the Mexican TV network TV Azteca were also the target of stone-throwing at the same demonstration. They tried to flee but were caught by Aristide supporters and were forced to surrender their video cassettes.
Reporter Michel Jean and cameraman Sylvain Richard of the TV network Radio Canada were the target of gunfire by pro-Aristide chimères in the north of Port-au-Prince on 24 February.
Previously, only Haitian journalists critical of the government had been the victims of violence. Two of them of them were killed: Jean Dominique in April 2000 and Brignol Lindor in December 2001. Several dozen journalists have been threatened or physically attacked by pro-Aristide chimères each year in recent years. Some 30 journalists have fled into exile since 2000.