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a141: Freedom of the Press (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Freedom of the Press

December 17, 2001 


Taking Advantage of the Coup Attempt, Government Supporters Attack the Press 

In a letter addressed to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Reporters Without Borders (French acronym RSF) exposed the attacks against the media and journalists by government supporters who took to the streets to support the regime during a coup attempt. "The systematic nature of the attacks reveals that the demonstrators had been instructed to assault the press," declared Robert Menard, General Secretary of RSF, expressing his concerns. Referring to the case of an assassinated journalist, Brignol Lindor, Mr. Menard exposed the "strategy designed to assimilate the press with the opposition in order to justify the attacks against the press." RSF asked the president to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists and allow the radio stations to resume their normal broadcasts. The organization also asked the Chief of State to give instructions to his supporters to stop their attacks on representatives of the media.

Brignol Lindor, of Radio Echo 2000, was assassinated on December 3, 2001, by close supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, the president's party, after he had invited representatives of the opposition to his program.  According to the Association of Haitian Journalists (French acronym AJH), about thirty journalists have been threatened or assaulted, since October, by supporters of the government resenting their criticism of the regime.

According to information gathered by RSF, in the morning of December 17, 2001, about ten journalists, among which Thony Belizaire, photographer of Agence France Presse, Patrick Moussignac, Gerin Alexandre, Jean-Elie Moleus, respectively director and reporters of Radio Caraibes FM, and Guiler Delva, president of the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH), were targeted by members of Fanmi Lavalas who had come to support the government dealing with a coup attempt. Answering a call from the president, several thousands of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's supporters had gathered in front of the presidential palace. The very excited demonstrators, armed with machetes, clubs, and revolvers, forced the journalists to leave the scene under threats. According to several observers, they blame the media for being too critical toward the regime. Moreover, two vehicles belonging to the television channel Telemax and Radio Metropole also came under attack near the presidential palace.

Claiming that they were under threats, Radio Metropole, Radio Vision 2000, Radio Caraibes FM, and Radio Kiskeya, four private radio stations of the capital, stopped broadcasting for safety reason, while others, including Radio Galaxie, Signal FM, and Radio Ibo, cancelled their news programs. Demonstrators attacked the facilities of Radio Caraibes, breaking the windows of the office. Several journalists were threatened by supporters of the regime, trying above all to identify the media organization for which they were working.  "We would beat you up, if you were a Radio Caraibes reporter," said some demonstrators to Maxeau Exil, of the news wire service Haiti Press Network, while threatening him with a weapon. Roger Damas, of Radio Ibo, was forced to turn over his press card and his cellular telephone by protesters assimilating Radio Ibo with the opposition. The journalist managed to escape. A crowd also gathered in front of the radio station Signal FM. According to Guyler Delva, several journalists stayed home by fear of reprisals. In the provinces, at least two information professionals were assaulted and the station Radio Maxima, broadcasting in Cap Haitian (North), had to cancel its programs.

Protesters also attacked the offices of the Democratic Convergence, KONAKOM, and KID, three opposition organizations.

Early in the morning, armed individuals had launched an attack on the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. According to APF, the attackers were under the leadership of by Guy Philippe, a former police commissioner, who was accused of conspiracy during the summer of 2000 and went into exile in the Dominican Republic and later in Ecuador. According to the presidency, the law enforcement forces stormed the palace and regained control in the morning.

Reporters Without Borders is an advocate for detained journalists and for freedom of the press throughout the world, namely the right to inform and be informed, according to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without Borders has nine national chapters (in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, Britain, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland,) offices in Abidjan, Bangkok, Montreal, Tokyo and Washington, and about one hundred correspondents throughout the world.