Dominican Republic

The abduction and murder of a magazine publisher and television presenter in August and several cases of threats have tarnished the climate of press freedom that has prevailed in the country in recent years. On August 2 armed men later identified as members of the self-styled “Eastern Cartel” drug trafficking gang kidnapped and shot to death journalist José Agustín Silvestre, editor and publisher of the print and on-air magazine La Voz de la Verdad (The Voice of Truth), which was produced in La Romana, in an incident attributed to the battle between two groups for control of the illicit drug trade in that region. Police promptly solved the crime, arresting the perpetrators and identifying Matías Avelino Castro as the alleged mastermind, who remains at large. Silvestre was known for his exposures of drug trafficking in the eastern region of the Dominican Republic. The day before his murder he had announced that he would be naming in the next edition of his magazine those allegedly guilty of a double homicide committed in La Romana. The Public Prosecutor’s Office said that Silvestre had received money from drug traffickers. Some weeks earlier Silvestre had been held in jail on a court order after a libel suit had been filed against him by the La Romana district attorney, who accused him of being in collusion with people linked to the illicit drug trade. Of the five people arrested one died in jail under circumstances that at the time of writing this report had not yet been clarified. In September, a Dominican court ruled in favor of investigative reporter Nuria Piera in an appeal for protection, ordering the Insurance Superintendent and senior official of the ruling party, Euclides Gutiérrez Félix, to cease his plan to file a libel suit against her, along with the businesses that sponsor her program. The court ordered him to apologize to the advertisers for his attempt to intimidate them, as in no existing law is there recognized the principle of complicity of solidarity of a third party in offenses of this kind. The case, however, opened up a wide debate on freedom of the press, sparked by a formal complaint by a large group of journalists that senior officials were pressuring various news media not to publish criticism of a number of governmental decisions. Nevertheless, the leading newspapers editorialized on the issue, denying such pressure and claiming the existence of a climate of general respect for press freedom. At the IAPA Midyear Meeting in San Diego there were complaints by several independent journalists that they had received threats or were subjected to interference by citizens and some police officers in street protests and other public activities as they did their job of covering court cases. Meanwhile, news media are waiting for the National Congress to take up five new communications sets of regulations and probable amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information that could affect the level of restriction on reports or data that are considered to be important for national security.