*By Javier Valdivia, Special to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
Miami (April 24, 2023) - Local media reported that the general director of a television station kidnapped two weeks ago in Haiti was released nine days later after a ransom was paid.
Robert Dénis, general director of the private television station Canal Bleu and twice vice-president of the National Association of Haitian Media (ANMH), was released last Thursday. "He is currently at home" said a relative of the victim to the news portal Vant Bèf Info (VBI).
Dénis was kidnapped on April 11 near his home in Pétion Ville, a middle-class sector of the Haitian capital where the executive resides. The local press reported that the kidnapping was carried out by a gang known as "Kraze Barye," which operates in the area.
In a statement released last week, the ANMH expressed concern for the life of Dénis, who had undergone several operations for heart problems, "was not in good health and was in the midst of a recovery period," according to the organization.
VBI noted that Dénis' health conditions are unknown at this time.
Journalists, press workers, and media executives are easy targets for attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations by gangs that control much of Port-au-Prince.
So far this year, three journalists have been kidnapped and released after ransom payment. They are Lebrun Saint-Hubert, president and general director of Community Radio 2000. Jean Thony Lorthé, host of the program "Rafrechi Memwa," broadcast by Radio Vision 2000. And Sandra Duvivier, a well-known cultural journalist, cameraman and member of the staff of Telemax, TV channel 5.
Two other journalists, Edner Décime of the AlterPresse agency and Oscar Joseph, long-time coordinator of audiovisual programs for the Ministry of Education, were kidnapped and later released last year.
A resolution on Haiti approved by the IAPA during its 78th General Assembly held in October 2022 in Spain stressed that the climate of violence and the political, economic, and security crisis in which this country is plunged keep journalists in a situation of defenselessness and high risk.
The IAPA called on the Haitian government to guarantee the preservation of freedom of expression and the free and safe practice of journalism and urged the press organizations of the Americas to express their solidarity and support for journalists and media outlets that continue to carry out their mission despite the current circumstances.
Gunmen shot dead Dumesky Kersaint, a journalist with Radio Télé Inurep, on April 16 in Carrefour, south of Port-au-Prince. The death of the 30-year-old journalist occurred in the same place where another unidentified person was shot dead, according to the digital media Vant Bèf Info. The outlet added that the perpetrator of the crime allegedly killed Kersaint when he recognized him because as a journalist.
IAPA President Michael Greenspon, Global Head of Licensing & Print Innovation for the New York Times, deplored "the wave of violence that has engulfed our colleagues in Haiti." He urged the media and press organizations of the Americas to "denounce and condemn the crimes, the impunity and, the violence that trouble the country."
The IAPA President of the Press Freedom and Information Committee, Carlos Jornet, expressed solidarity with Kersaint's family and colleagues. Jornet, the editor of the newspaper La Voz del Interior of Argentina, added: "Since last year, we have witnessed the great insecurity surrounding the profession in Haiti. Journalists have become victims of armed gangs that operate in several areas of the country."
Kersaint's murder is the first crime committed against a journalist in Haiti this year. Nine other journalists were killed in 2022, the worst year for the practice of journalism in the country only after Mexico, according to IAPA.
*Javier Valdivia is a Miami-based journalist. He is an expert on Haiti. He was Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Listín Diario newspaper in the Dominican Republic and a former correspondent in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for the Chinese state agency Xinhua.