05 March 2015
An unfettered freedom of the press continues to be a dream in Haiti, where political polarization is undermining the free flow of information and respect for ideas, leading to self-censorship and threats against journalists and media outlets from politicians of various ideological stripes. Mired in an institutional crisis, President Michel Martelly announced in February the formation of an electoral council, with the consensus of several political parties, in an attempt to overcome the impasse that has followed the November 2014 resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Lamothe had, among other things, been challenged by the press regarding the handling of aid funds donated by the Venezuelan government to help rebuild the country after the 2005 earthquake. The chairman of the new electoral council announced that parliamentary and presidential elections would be held to elect a new president of Haiti no later than February 2016. A finalized timetable for the elections has not been released yet. Since Martelly was elected in 2011, his presidency has been marked by frequent acts of intimidation and attacks against journalists, with police officers participating in many of these incidents. Journalists critical of the government have been discriminated against by the Office of the President and other government entities, which, according to complaints by the Haitian Association of Independent Media Outlets (AMIH), do not invite these journalists to press conferences. The AMIH has also revealed the government’s apparent plans to raise the price of broadcasting licenses for radio stations critical of the Martelly administration. In one of the most notable developments of this period, the organization SOS Journalistes denounced the reported assault on journalist Gerdy Jérémie of Radio TV Express while she was covering a protest. Jérémie says she was violently confronted by two anti-riot police officers in the city of Jacmel in southern Haiti. The officers denied her claims and gave their own version of events. The national police force opened two separate investigations into the incident but has not released its conclusions. In another development, on November 28 journalists Deborah Jean and Stéphanie Eveillard, along with five female coworkers, complained to the Ministry of Culture and Women’s Affairs that the general manager of the state-owned television station RTHN had sexually and psychologically harassed them and abused his power. These allegations were submitted in an open letter which, upon publication, led to the firing of Jean and two other female employees of the station. Meanwhile, no progress has been made in the investigation into the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique, who was the owner of Radio Haiti Inter. Philippe Markington, who is considered a key witness in the case, was extradited from Argentina in June 2014. The fugitive had made his way to Argentina after escaping from a Haitian prison. Investigators in the Dominique case have found that Markington has ties to an ex-senator close to former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, whose administration was harshly criticized by Dominique. Aristide is under house arrest at his home on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. But Lamarre Belizarre, the judge who claims jurisdiction over the case, has been unable to compel the former president to appear in his court. Aristide, who governed Haiti from 2001 to 2004, has been accused of money laundering, drug trafficking, and embezzlement of millions of dollars during his term as president. His defenders insist that these charges, as well as the attempt to tie him to Dominique’s murder, are part of a campaign by his political opponents to persecute him.