On 3 April, it will be two years since Jean Dominique, head of Radio Haiti Inter, was murdered - two years of obstacles to finding out the truth about the killing as part of a "tradition of impunity" aimed at stifling the media and denounced by RSF and the Damocles Network (which fights against impunity)... To spur the Haitian government into action, the two organisations have launched a radio campaign in Haiti and other countries. On 3 April, a message criticising the government’s attitude in the case will be broadcast by about 20 radio stations in Haiti, the United States, Canada and France. RSF and the Damocles Network have also made new recommendations to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, notably urging him to reappoint as the chief investigator in the affair Judge Claudy Gassant, who was dropped early this year when his term expired.
Impunity: deliberate intimidation
Dominique, Haiti’s best-known journalist and political analyst, was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station on 3 April 2000, along with the station’s gatekeeper, Jean-Claude Louissant. The famously outspoken Dominique criticised former soldiers and Duvalierists, the country’s wealthy families and, not long before his death, those he suspected inside President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas (FL) party of wanting to "turn the party away from its original principles." In an editorial broadcast on 19 October 1999, he strongly attacked Dany Toussaint, a leading FL figure. Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, is sure of one thing, that he husband was murdered because "he couldn’t be controlled."
Despite official assertions, nearly all state institutions have obstructed the investigation. The minister of justice has never given adequate protection to the investigating judge, despite him being threatened. The police have refused to execute arrest warrants and are even suspected of handing over a major suspect in the case, Panel Rénélus, to an angry crowd who chopped him to death on 9 November last year, soon after he was arrested. Rénélus was the second suspect to die shortly after being picked up in connection with the case. In June 2000, Jean-Wilner Lalanne, who is thought to have been a link-man between those who ordered the killing and those who carried it out, died in mysterious circumstances during a minor hospital operation after being arrested.Judge Gassant’s investigation pointed to Dany Toussaint, elected to the Senate in May 2000, as the main suspect in the murder, but his fellow senators obstructed the enquiry on several occasions, notably on 31 January this year when, after having had the matter under consideration for six months, they rejected the judge’s request to lift Toussaint’s parliamentary immunity, saying the paperwork was "incomplete" and that more information was needed. Their decision came a week after that of President Aristide not to renew the appointment of Gassant, whose seriousness and courage were recognised by all, and to hand the case over to a group of three other judges.
"Grassroots organisations" of FL supporters, confident of not being punished at all, have stepped up attacks over the past year on journalists they consider too critical of the government and who they accuse of working for the opposition. About 40 journalists were threatened or physically attacked last year and 15 more such incidents have been recorded so far this year by the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH). The government has rarely condemned these attacks. On the contrary, the lack of any serious investigation into them shows a clear intent, possibly by top government officials, to lump the media with the opposition so as to justify the attacks. The growing violence reached a climax last 3 December with the murder of journalist Brignol Lindor, of the Echo 2000 radio station in Petit-Goâve (southwest of Port-au-Prince). A report by the AJH said members of the pro-FL grassroots organisation Domi Nan Bwa admitted they killed him, but despite this they have still not been arrested. The media situation further deteriorated on 17 December, when there was an apparent attempted coup d’etat, after which armed supporters of President Aristide took to the streets and systematically attacked journalists they considered critical of the government. The atmosphere of lawlessness that day made seven radio stations stop broadcasting or suspend their news programmes and several opposition premises were burned by pro-FL demonstrators. With the president failing to disown the actions of his supporters, about 15 journalists chose to flee into exile abroad for their own safety.
A radio campaign against impunity
To pressure the Haitian government into ending the "tradition of impunity" the Haitian press is a victim of, RSF and the Damocles Network have launched a radio campaign against impunity. A message in French and Creole criticising the authorities’ attitude in the Jean Dominique case will be broadcast by about 20 radio stations in Haiti, the United States, Canada and France. In Haiti, a dozen stations, including the main ones in Port-au-Prince, are already broadcasting it. It is a chance for these stations, several of whose journalists have been attacked or have gone into exile, to show that the battle against immunity does not just involve the family of Jean Dominique and Radio Haiti Inter. A dozen stations or relayed radio programmes in the Haitian community in the United States and Canada are also broadcasting the message. International stations such as Radio France International and the Voice of America have agreed to carry it too.
Recommendations to the Haitian authorities
RSF and the Damocles Network support the recommendations made to the Haitian authorities on 21 February by the Echo Voix Jean Dominique Foundation, which is campaigning for a full enquiry into the journalist’s killing.
Concerning Dominique’s murder, RSF and the Damocles Network call for:
Reappointment of Judge Claudy Gassant.
Execution of arrest warrants issued for Richard "Cha Cha" Salomon (seen as Dany Toussaint’s right-hand man) and Toussaint’s bodyguard Franck Joseph, who have refused to appear before the investigating judge.
The lifting of Sen. Toussaint’s parliamentary immunity.
Revival of the enquiry into the death of Panel Rénélus, which seems to have been dropped, and the death of Jean-Wilner Lalanne.
The two organisations also ask the Haitian authorities to:
Execute warrants issued for the arrest of members of Domi Nan Bwa who have admitted killing Brignol Lindor.
Firmly condemn any attack on press freedom and thoroughly investigate each incident so as to punish those responsible, whatever their political affiliation.
Begin an operation to confiscate weapons, starting with members of grassroots organisations.
RSF and the Damocles Network note that on 11 January this year they called on the European Union and the US Congress to take individual sanctions against 24 Haitian officials who, by their actions or lack of them, are obstructing investigation of the murders of Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor. The sanctions requested were refusal of transit or entry visas to the US and the EU for the 24 officials and their families and the freezing of any bank accounts they hold outside Haiti.