Dominican Republic

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC On August 3, a judge sentenced each of the four convicted killers of journalist Orlando Martínez to 30 years in prison, the maximum penalty under Dominican law. The stiff punishment of the murder, which took place a quarter-century ago, was considered a boost to press freedom. On August 20, a photographer of Listín Diario was held by an officer of the presidential guard in the front office of President Mejía for 27 minutes, because he was surprised taking pictures of remodeling work in the office, which is next to the president’s. The officer demanded that the photographer show him his “authorization” to take pictures. On August 26, radio journalist Aikis Amborix reported that his commentary program on state-owned Radiotelevisión Dominicana was abruptly pulled off the air by military personnel and station officials headed by editor Nelson Marte. On August 30, the director of the government radio-television agency took the radio program “Tono Nacional” off the air saying, “no one who benefits from the agency can be allowed to attack the president excessively.” The producers of the program denied his statement and said they were taken off the air “in the middle of the transmission and with no justification.” On September 15, El Nacional reported on page 4 that a television program that has been broadcast every day for six years was told by the administration of the private television station Cinevisión that it would be cancelled because, as the producer said, “it attacked former president Leonel Fernández a lot.” On September 24, the newspaper El Siglo, published an unprecedented editorial on page 6B blasting national radio and television call-in shows and asked the government to cancel all of them, saying the language on them is “improper.” The editorial caused widespread condemnation from the more than 500 call-in shows on 130 radio stations nationwide, and they called for a boycott of the newspaper. So far the government has made no comment on this matter. When he was asked about it, the owner of the newspaper appeared surprised and repudiated the editorial. On September 28, President Hipólito Mejía submitted to the Senate a bill to reform the Law of Expression and Dissemination of Thought. A special commission consisting of newspaper executives, the journalists’ colegio and attorneys specializing in media law drafted the bill’s new wording, which is inspired by the principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec. There has been no progress in the investigation of the May 26, 1994 disappearance of columnist Narciso González. The journalist, widely known as Narcizaso, disappeared following his strong criticism of the government and the military shortly after the presidential elections of that year. A number of former military personnel were questioned in the case but no one has been charged. On October 12, journalists covering the National Palace protested restrictions on their reporting there. There are real threats by government officials against freedom of expression and dissemination of thought. As long as mass media throughout the country are concentrated in the hands of a few. There is a clear intention to obstruct press freedom and impose self-censorship.