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a262: Haitian journalists fear for lives (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Monday, January 7, 2002

Haitian journalists fear for lives
Attacks on press rise after failed coup

As many as 40 Haitian journalists are hiding in fear for their lives. Twelve
have fled the country, with four now in South Florida. None wants to become
the next Brignol Lindor, the Haitian radio reporter hacked to death last

The journalists say their fears have escalated since the failed Dec. 17 coup
attempt in which armed men stormed the National Palace in Port-au-Prince
trying to oust Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Following the coup attempt, dozens of Haitian journalists sought refuge in
foreign embassies and many more went into hiding -- the result, they say, of
increased attacks against them by popular organizations loyal to Aristide
and his Lavalas Family Party.

Pharés Duverné and Yves Clausel Alexis decided to make a run for Miami after
an angry mob held Uzis and 9mms to their heads outside Radio Vision 2000 in
Port-au-Prince, following the coup attempt.

The mob demanded the two radio journalists beg for their lives by declaring:
``Long live Aristide. Long live Lavalas.''

``We did it,'' Duverné said in an interview last week. ``They let us leave,
but they told us, `If you ever give news critical of the government, we will
kill you. We will Brignol Lindor you.' ''

That warning was enough, Duverné said, for him to grab his wife and two
small children and seek protection behind the walls of a foreign embassy
that he declines to identify. He is living temporarily in Palm Beach County,
and Alexis is in Miami.

So far, six journalists have arrived in the United States. They have settled
in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, as well as in New York and New

Of the others who have left Haiti, one went to Spain, another to Guadeloupe
and four -- including another Vision 2000 journalist -- went to France.


Aggression against journalists in Haiti and elsewhere is not a new
phenomenon. In 2001, 52 members of the media were killed, according to the
Austria-based International Press Institute, including eight journalists in

Before Lindor's death Dec. 3, the most publicized killing of a journalist in
Haiti took place April 3, 2000.

That's when gunmen killed popular radio commentator Jean Dominique, along
with security guard Jean-Claude Louissaint in the courtyard of Dominique's
Radio Haiti Inter.

Nearly two years later, no one has been charged, and on Friday the term of
Claudy Gassant, the investigative judge, expired. The the investigation's
fate is now in question.


Journalists and international observers say the Haitian government's weak
response to the Dominique and Lindor cases fuels a feeling of impunity among
``vigilante'' groups loyal to the president who believe they can threaten,
harass and attack journalists at will.

``It's time the administration gets tough. The situation is becoming more
and more unbearable,'' said Régis Bourgeat of Reporters Without Borders, a
Paris-based advocacy group pushing the Haitian government to bring the
accused to justice.

``Openly the government says it asks for peace,'' Bourgeat says, referring
to Aristide's recent Haitian Independence Day speech. ``But we don't want
only words. We want President Aristide to say to supporters to stop
attacking the press, and we want his police to investigate the threats made
against the journalists.''

These sentiments were recently expressed in a letter to Aristide from Robert
Ménard, Reporters Without Borders' secretary general.

In it, Ménard, who plans to travel to Haiti this week to address the
situation, said Aristide's ``absence of measures to protect threatened
newsrooms'' negates the commitment he made Dec. 17 to see to it that freedom
of the press is respected.

According to Bourgeat and the Haitian Press Federation, a Haiti-based
journalist group, an estimated 40 journalists have been threatened or
assaulted by government supporters who accuse them of being too critical of
the government or being mouthpieces for the opposition Convergence alliance.

Both groups have been assisting the journalists who have fled, and say the
attacks have gotten worse since Lindor's death.


Luc Especa, a spokesman for President Aristide, said while some journalists
were threatened, there was ``exaggeration in the kind of harassment some
journalists said they were submitted to in the aftermath of the failed coup

Still, he said, the president wants to improve relations and plans to meet
with members of the Haitian and foreign press this week, where he'll
reaffirm his commitment to freedom of the press.

``The president has strongly condemned any threat against them, and called
on all people to refrain from harassing journalists and let them do their
work in a climate of complete freedom,'' Especa said.

But it will take more than words, the journalists here say, to convince them
that it is safe to return to Haiti and resume their life's work -- which
lately has included reporting news that doesn't always show the government
in a positive light.

``They don't want journalists to exercise their rights,'' says Josette
Gladys, 33, a magazine reporter in Cabaret, a town outside Port-au-Prince,
and one of the few print journalists who allegedly has been attacked. Gladys
is living in Palm Beach County.

Franceline Léonard, a correspondent for Radio Metropole in Les Cayes, about
94 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, says it will be difficult for her to


Léonard's troubles began Nov. 17 while on assignment. While covering a
meeting of Lavalas supporters, she was allegedly struck by a supporter, who
also destroyed her recording equipment.

Léonard filed a complaint, and the alleged attacker was arrested.

He was later released. A judge dismissed the case, saying she had provoked
the situation through her unflattering reports about the Lavalas party,
Léonard said.

Léonard, whose case has been documented by Reporters Without Borders, had
been in hiding in Haiti, before arriving in Miami three days before

At 1 a.m. Dec. 18, she says, popular organization members came to her house
looking for her. She wasn't there. That's when she decided it was time to

``Yesterday I called home, and they are still receiving threats,'' says a
tearful Léonard, whose husband and young children remain in Haiti. ``They
say if they don't find me, they will take my family.''


Judith Trunzo, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, says the office is
aware of the plight of Haitian journalists and has received dozens of calls
for help including requests for political asylum.

However, there is very little the embassy can do, she says, noting it's a
``delicate balancing act.''

For instance, unlike other embassies in Haiti, the U.S. Embassy does not
house people seeking protection.

``They come here and expect us to help. We can't give asylum in a country
where we are here by lateral accord,'' she said. ``We are trying to meet
both American law and conduct a humanitarian act.''

The law, she says, allows for temporary visas, which have been issued to
some of the journalists, including Yves Alexis, the Vision 2000 reporter who
arrived here with his fiancée. The visas, Trunzo said, are given with the
understanding that the individuals will return once things cool down.

But given the state of affairs in Haiti -- a failed coup attempt, attacks on
journalists, an international aid blockade, ongoing disagreements between
Lavalas and the opposition and infighting among Lavalas members -- it's hard
to tell if there will ever be such a day, the journalists said.


``They are people without names, without addresses,'' Alexis said of his
attackers, while noting this was not the first time he or the station had
received threats. ``When things happen on the street, we cannot identify
ourselves as journalists. Once we identify ourselves, we put ourselves at
risk for getting killed.''

With few relatives in South Florida, the journalists here have been
depending on assistance from the Haitian Press Federation for food and
lodging. As they figure out how to maneuver Tri-Rail commuter trains and the
area's fragmented public transit system, they sit and weigh their options.

They all say they intend to apply for political asylum -- a complex process
that can take from months to years.

``I'm a little afraid,'' said Duverné, who was friends with Lindor.

``I am here in the United States. I don't know how long it will take to
consider our request, and I don't want a situation where they will make us
return to Haiti. Our security is not guaranteed,'' he said. ``There are
elements that will attack us anyhow.''

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