Renowned Journalist Kidnapped for a Few Hours in Haiti

Journalists, media workers, and executives are the target of attacks, kidnappings, and murders by gangs.

*By Javier Valdivia, for the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA)

Miami (June 14, 2023) - A well-known Haitian journalist was kidnapped from her home and freed hours later by one of the dangerous gangs operating in Port-au-Prince.

Marie Lucie Bonhomme Opont, a journalist for Radio Vision 2000, was kidnapped at 3:00 a.m. on June 13 at her residence in the Tabarre neighborhood, northeast of the Haitian capital, by the gang known as "Kraze Baryè" led by Vitelhomme Innocent, a fugitive from justice, according to the victim.

"Armed individuals ransacked my house and stole an undetermined number of items. They took me to Innocent's base, who decided to release me but kept my vehicle," Bonhomme told the AlterPresse news agency.

Journalists, media workers, and executives are the target of attacks, kidnappings, and murders by gangs that control much of Haiti's capital, a country mired in a deep climate of insecurity and political crisis.

In recent days, the gang led by Innocent has perpetrated attacks on residences and businesses in Tabarre, including that of former senator Evalière Beauplan and the headquarters of an imported car dealership where the honorary Jamaican consulate operates.

In addition to Bonhomme, four journalists were kidnapped in 2023 and then released after payment of ransoms in 2023: Robert Dénis, general manager of the private TV station Canal Bleu and twice vice president of the National Association of Haitian Media (ANMH); Lebrun Saint-Hubert, president and general manager of the community radio station 2000; Jean Thony Lorthé, host of the program "Rafrechi Memwa," broadcast by Radio Vision 2000; and Sandra Duvivier, renowned cultural journalist, cameraman and member of the staff of Telemax, TV channel 5.

Three Haitian journalists were murdered this year. Paul Jean Marie, the presenter at Radio Lumière, was killed on May 5 by criminals who entered his residence in Onaville, in the Croix-des-Bouquets district, east of the capital. Also murdered were Ricot Jean, a journalist with Radio-Télé Évolution Inter in the city of Saint-Marc (north), whose body was found in an open field on April 25, and Dumesky Kersaint, editor of Radio Télé Inurep, who was gunned down on April 18 in the Carrefour district, south of Port-au-Prince.

The April report on press freedom of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) considers that practicing journalism in Haiti "continues to be difficult, risky and exposes professionals to precarious and highly vulnerable conditions". The risks for the profession were also registered by the Unesco report 2023, "Study on the development of the media in Haiti." The document notes that attacks against the press are frequent. Their perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. It also denounces that reporters covering political rallies are often verbally or physically attacked by demonstrators who associate them with the opposing side.

Last week, the National Board of the Haitian Observatory for Law and Press Freedom (OHDLP) "strongly" condemned the physical assault and attempted murder of the organization's director of legal affairs, Amentha Léonard, by a gang operating in the department of Nippes, 110 kilometers southwest of the capital.

The general director of the online portal Clin D'œil Info, Blondson Bachtmy Délien, filed a complaint with the Port-au-Prince prosecutor's office for persistent threats against him following the publication of information involving a former mayor.

*Javier Valdivia is a journalist based in Miami. He is an expert on Haiti and was deputy editor in chief of the newspaper Listín Diario of the Dominican Republic. He is a former correspondent of the Chinese state agency Xinhua in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.