Dominican Republic

More than twenty-five cases of physical and verbal attacks on journalists by police officers and members of the military weakened the ability of the press to work in this period. In one of those serious cases, four journalists were hospitalized after being injured by pellets as they were covering a protest march that the National Police broke up. The incident occurred on the outskirts of a gold mine that the Canadian company Barrick Gold plans to exploit in the Pueblo Viejo, Cotuí, area to the north of the Dominican capital. The injured journalists are Ramón Antonio Salcedo Soto and photographer Wilson Aracena from the newspaper Hoy, radio host Martín Lanfranco and producer Leandro Sepúlveda. In April, police beat Santos Aracena and his mother, Cirilia Aracena; Aracena is a cameraman for Santiago de los Caballeros television station Canal 29. The assault occurred while they were in their home, without the reason being disclosed. The police later said it was a confusion. In the same month, journalist Francisca Ramírez, producer of the program Periodismo y Democracia (Journalism and Democracy) broadcast by Teleantillas in Santo Domingo, was assaulted by an officer of the National Army who snatched a sign in homage to murdered columnist and university professor Narciso González, known as Narcisazo, who disappeared in 1994, as a group of journalists was laying a floral wreath at the Altar de la Patria. Raúl Cárdenas, correspondent of television channel Telemicro in Sánchez Ramírez province, received a death threat from a National Police lieutenant as he was covering his transfer from this to another force. Another reporter from the same channel, Héctor Peña, correspondent in the Boca Chica township, was beaten, had his camera taken away, and was then arrested by an anti-drugs agent as he was filming the seizure of a shipment of drugs that was to be sent to Spain. Hooded men bearing firearms who took part in a confrontation with another group of people in Azua city, in the south of the country, within the framework of the May 20 presidential elections, hurled rocks at Hoy reporter Héctor Abreu Casado. The SIN television news camera was destroyed in the incident. Some days later, Abreu Casado reported that he was receiving continual death threats in anonymous telephone calls. On the evening of the presidential elections the Central Electoral Board ordered the shutdown of the television channels Telesistema, Canal 11 and Supercanal 33, accusing them of violating Electoral Law 297-07, which bans the dissemination of unofficial election results before the formal verdict of that board. The channels went back on air the following day. That same day, the authorities arrested José Miguel Canaán, one of the principal executives of the Internet portal, accused of intending to hack the Central Electoral Board’s computer center. Gómez Canaán was immediately released, but several weeks later was arrested again and is now on bail awaiting trial. In the city of La Romana, to the east of Santo Domingo, a police officer insulted journalist Franklin Cordero, correspondent of the newspaper El Caribe, and made him spend a night in the police jail without there being any justified reason. In María Trinidad Sánchez province in the northeast, four journalists covering the elections of the local mayor’s office legal counsel were beaten in the midst of a melee that occurred between rival political groups. They were reporters Teonilda Gómez from Listín Diario, David Hilario from El Caribe, Francis Frías, director of a local radio station, and Jhonny Alberto Salazar from radio station Vida FM. Two freelance journalists have been convicted by courts and sentenced to fines and imprisonment on charges of libel and defamation of civilian citizens. Jhonny Alberto Salazar was sentenced to six months in prison and Melton Pineda, a radio commentator, to three months. In this latter case it was another journalist who sued on the grounds he felt libeled by accusations against him. In another development, the start of a hearing is pending in the Supreme Court on a charge of defamation that former president Hipólito Mejía has filed against governing party senator Wilton Guerrero and journalist Osvaldo Santana, director of Multimedios del Caribe, a company that runs the newspaper El Caribe and the Canal de Noticias (CDN) news channel, over a report that Mejía had gone to Sinaloa, Mexico, in an airplane piloted by one of the trusted men of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in February in the middle of the presidential electoral campaign. In a further development, two sentences handed down by a judge and the Constitutional Tribunal contributed to strengthening the basis of Law 200-04 on Free Access to Public Information. In the first case, the Sánchez Ramírez Province Civil and Commercial Court justice sentenced Fantino city mayor Lorenza Rojas Rosario to payment of a fine and ordered her to hand over information requested by a citizen concerning management of city hall, which she had refused to do. In the other case, the Constitutional Court ordered the Chamber of Deputies to reveal the list of its advisors, with their respective salaries, as a citizen had requested. Such sentence had been issued by the Administrative High Court, but the Chamber of Deputies did not want to hand over the list, declaring that the names, positions and salaries were of a confidential nature, for which the Constitutional Court upheld that ruling and established that “even though the right to privacy is a fundamental value of the democratic system the right to free access to public information may not be restricted, at the risk of depriving the people of the tools to control the use and handling of public resources, with the objective of placing obstacles to corruption in public administration.” The chamber of Deputies had to obey this ruling and divulge the list of its advisors and their respective salaries.