Dominican Republic

Some recent events, especially in the courts, are a cause of concern for journalists. Government officials and the president, Hipólito Mejía, continue to criticize reporters, but this has not inhibited press freedom. The president has said repeatedly that he respects press freedom and that when he calls journalists “Talibans” or “reckless,” he does not say it in a pejorative sense but just to indicate that they are acting “childish.” He also has complained that newspaper editors have abused their media to publish falsehoods. Luis González Fabra, the government press spokesman, said in February that the state has no interest in restricting press freedom and, in fact, guarantees it. The most noteworthy cases are: - The military detained Gonell Franco, correspondent for Listín Diario and Última Hora, for two days in December in the border city Dajabón to be “investigated” based on charges made by two former regional officials on the radio program he directs on the Catholic station Radio Marién. Franco and the former governor of the province were taken to the capital and interrogated by military officials of the State Security agency concerning statements made by the ex-governor alleging open illegal rice smuggling. The national attorney general at the time, Virgilio Bello Rosa, spoke out against the arrest and demanded that they be released. The correspondent and the ex-governor were freed without charges after strong pressure from the media and journalists in reaction to this violation of their constitutional rights. - In February, Julio Martínez Pozo, a radio commentator, was taken to court on charges of defamation and libel by the director of the Port Authority, who complained about commentaries made about him on the program “El Gobierno de la Mañana” in which Martínez Pozo participated. The journalist responded to the charge and the case is continuing. The same journalist reported on his program that a government official based in the National Palace had imported an armored vehicle without paying customs taxes. The president called the journalist and demanded, on the air, that he identify the official. The journalist declined to do so. A few days later, various ministers based in the National Palace filed a defamation and libel lawsuit against the journalist. The executive branch’s counsel, Guido Gómez Mazara, also filed a charge against Martínez Pozo, saying that he had implied that Gómez Mazara had imported the armored vehicle. Martínez Pozo has said that these court cases are an attempt to intimidate him to stop his reporting. - In February, Miguel Franjul, editor of Listín Diario, brought a libel and defamation suit against Environment Minister Frank Moya Pons in the Supreme Court after the official published a letter accusing Franjul of making composite pictures and falsifying the facts about the destruction of dunes in the interior of the country. Moya Pons said he would not accept blackmail nor pay money to editors or journalists, in a clear implication that he had been pressured to do so. Moya Pons responded to Franjul’s lawsuit and the case is in the court. The case of columnist Narciso González (Narcisazo), who disappeared in August of 1994 after sharply criticizing then President Joaquín Balaguer and military officers, continues in legal limbo. He had accused them of electoral fraud in that year’s election. Several military officials were called as witnesses by a magistrate in charge of the case, but in January a ruling was issued releasing them from any responsibility and, in effect, shelving the investigation.