Report to the 71th General Assembly

Charleston, South Carolina

October 2 – 6, 2015

A journalist murdered by a band of thugs, a television reporter who came under gunfire, and three other journalists who received death threats — these incidents have cast a dark shadow over journalism in the past six months.

Blas Olivo, a longtime journalist and a spokesman for a private agribusiness council, was shot and killed on April 13. Seven hitmen associated with drug trafficking were sentenced to one year in prison on charges of conspiracy, although they denied any involvement in the killing.

Despite this verdict, there is widespread uncertainty in the Dominican Republic as to whether those convicted are actually guilty. While the National Police was conducting its investigation, two alleged leaders of the gang were killed — one in a street shooting and the other in a high-security prison where he was serving a 30-year sentence.

Olivo's relatives and others believe that the gang leaders were killed in an attempt to erase the trail that could lead to the actual killers.

In late May, burglars broke into the home of Marino Zapete — a commentator for the television program "El Despertador" (The Alarm) on Channel 9 — and stole Zapete's laptop. One of the suspects died in a confrontation with police, and the other turned himself in. The laptop was recovered.

In early July, unknown assailants opened fire on television reporter Celina Suriel on a street in the capital city. Suriel was uninjured, although her vehicle was struck by multiple gunshots.

Domingo Díaz Matos, a cameraman for Telemicro Channel 5, was struck by multiple gunshots fired by unknown assailants. Meanwhile, three other radio and television journalists — William Rodríguez of the program "Abriendo la mañana" (Opening the Morning), Omar Peralta of the program "60 minutos con Omar" (60 Minutes with Omar) in the city of San Francisco de Macorís, and Nelson Gutiérrez, a leader of the National Union of Press Workers — reported that they had recieved death threats for reporting on alleged acts of corruption in the National Police and in the municipal government of San Francisco de Macorís.

One of those charged in the 2014 murder of cameraman Newton González, from the city of Santiago, turned himself in and is now awaiting trial. This defendant, Juan José García, has an extensive criminal record.

Despite this perilous environment for journalists amid a broader crime wave, media outlets — be they print, online, radio or television — are operating without obstacles or pressures from the government.

The media outlets that make up the Dominican Newspaper Association are concerned that the Constitutional Court has yet to issue its ruling on an appeal, filed two-and-a-half years ago, challenging the constitutionality of a law on expression and dissemination of thought, in effect since 1962, and of several provisions of the Penal Code.

The case entered the phase of final deliberations on June 21, 2013. Since then, the newspapers have been awaiting a verdict that is consistent with the Constitution, one that would remove the legislative delays that have ushered in a system of judicial persecution and denial of freedoms.