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8890: Haïti : RSF urges Senate to lift parliamentary immunity of senator implicated in journalist Jean Dominique's murder (fwd)

From: "[iso-8859-1] Régis BOURGEAT" <ameriques@rsf.fr>

<fontfamily><param>Geneva</param>Press freedom

13 August 2001


RSF urges Senate to lift parliamentary immunity of senator implicated
in journalist Jean Dominique's murder 

In a letter to senators, RSF urged Haiti's elected representatives to
lift the parliamentary immunity of Dany Toussaint, a senator from the
west. "By voting in favour of this measure, you will simply be allowing
the justice system to follow its natural course," wrote RSF
Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "If Mr. Toussaint is innocent, as he
claims, only a fair and impartial trial will enable him to clear his
name conclusively. Refusing to lift his parliamentary immunity would
constitute a denial of justice and make him a permanent suspect,"
explained Ménard. He also asked the senators to demonstrate an
"exemplary" attitude with regard to the case of assassinated journalist
Jean Dominique, which is being followed closely by Haitian society and
the international community. RSF recalled that in January 2001, the
upper chamber expressed its opposition to the examining judge hearing
Senator Toussaint as a witness.

According to information collected by RSF, on 10 August, Minister of
Justice Gary Lissade forwarded to the Senate Examining Judge Claudy
Gassant's petition for the lifting of Senator Toussaint's parliamentary
immunity. Toussaint has been indicted in the context of the
investigation into the assassination of journalist Dominique. The
minister also forwarded to the senators a decision by a judge in
chambers who, questioning Judge Gassant's impartiality in leading the
investigation, demanded a stay in the execution of his petition. The
case was referred to the judge in chambers by Toussaint's lawyers, on
the basis of the interrogation of several persons detained in the
context of the case. These interrogations have since been declared
illegal and the minister of justice imposed disciplinary action against
their instigator, Magistrate Jean Gabriel Ambroise. Ambroise had acted
on the request of the senator's lawyers.

RSF recalled that in January, the Senate had rejected Judge Gassant's
request to hear Senator Toussaint as a witness, citing his
parliamentary immunity. According to the Haitian constitution,
parliamentary immunity can only be bypassed when a parliamentarian's
individual freedom is challenged, which was not the case in this
instance. A great deal of pressure was put on the judge during this
period. Senate Speaker Yvon Neptune stated that "a mere little judge
[could not] summon someone from the great body." The Senate also
threatened to launch an investigation into Judge Gassant's "exact
motives." More serious still, on 30 January, the magistrate was
threatened by Member of Parliament Millien Rommage, who is close to
Toussaint, after he had heard several friends of Toussaint's as
witnesses. Accompanied by several heavily armed men, Rommage had warned
Judge Gassant that "if he continued," he might riddle his car with

On 3 April 2000, Dominique, the best known Haitian journalist and
political analyst in the country, was killed in the courtyard of Radio
Haïti Inter. Dominique was the radio station's director. Known for his
independent tone, Dominique was critical of former Duvalier officials,
the military and powerful families of the bourgeoisie. More recently,
he criticised those he suspected within the Fanmi Lavalas, President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Party, of seeking to "divert the movement from
its principles." In a 19 October 1999 editorial, the journalist sharply
challenged Toussaint's ambitions. Toussaint was indicted in late May
2001. Since then, his supporters have organised several demonstations
in which they denounced a putative "plot" against him and called for
the examining judge's arrest. At the same time, his lawyers launched a
genuine "procedural war" aimed at slowing down the course of justice.
In recent weeks, they have launched no fewer than six actions before
four separate judicial bodies. These include actions before civil,
appeals and cassation courts and summary proceedings. Five of the six
actions are based on Magistrate Ambroise's illegal interrogations.

Dominique's assassination has been interpreted as a warning by the
entire journalism community in Haiti.

<italic>Reporters Sans Frontières defends jailed journalists and press
freedom throughout the world, that is, the right to inform and be
informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. Reporters Sans Frontières has nine sections (Austria,
Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland and
United Kingdom), representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, Montréal, Tokyo
and Washington, and about a hundred correspondents worldwide.

Régis Bourgeat

Despacho Américas / Americas desk

Reporters sans frontières

5, rue Geoffroy-Marie

75009 Paris - France

tél. : +33 (0) 1 44 83 84 57

fax : +33 (0) 1 45 23 11 51

e-mail : ameriques@rsf.org

	/ americas@rsf.org