Gang Violence Directly Affects a Dozen Journalists in Haiti


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

Miami (September 7, 2023) — The constant violence carried out by a gang in one of the most popular neighborhoods of the Haitian capital has ended up directly affecting a dozen journalists and press workers who, in recent years, have become the target of attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations.

"Journalists residing in Carrefour-Feuilles are in great difficulty; some of their residences have been burned, and others have had to flee their homes to escape the fury of the men (of the gang member) 'Ti Lapli' seeking refuge in other places," Radio Télé Galaxie said this Sunday.

Carrefour-Feuilles is a crowded sector located southwest of Port-au-Prince, in which the gang known as Grand Ravine, led by 'Ti Lapli,' maintains control of the area. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 16,500 people from this place have taken refuge in "spontaneous places" due to the violence imposed by that gang.

Radio Télé Galaxie pointed out that among the victims are Réginald Esaie Orélus and Richardson Jourdan, journalists for Haitian National Television (TNH); Jacques Desrosiers, Secretary General of the Association of Haitian Journalists; Celou Flécher and Dessources Dieumaitre, general directors of Le Facteur and Fact Checking News, both digital media; and Samuel Dallemand and Rubens Artist, reporters for Télé Ginen.

The station also mentioned Jean Yves Saint-Louis, a journalist for Radio Lumière; Kettia Marcellus, from the organization Solidarity of Haitian Women Journalists (SOFEHJ in French); Jacques Stevenson Saint-Louis, a journalist for Radio Educativa, from the Ministry of Education; Arnold Junior, a reporter for Radio Galaxie, and Judex Vélima, a reporter for Télé Espace.

At the end of August, the same station had already reported that Grand Ravine gang members burned down the house of its journalist, Arnold Junior Pierre, also located in the Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood.

Haiti is facing a severe political crisis and a climate of constant insecurity due to the absence of elected authorities and the ineffectiveness of the local police in confronting dozens of gangs that sow terror in much of the country.

The most recent victim of violence was Brown Larose, the star host of the program "Matin Débat," which is broadcast on Radio Télé Éclair, who was shot at in front of his home in the Delmas neighborhood (east of Port-au-Prince) on August 11, from where he was rushed to a hospital.

On October 25 of last year, Roberson Alphonse, a well-known journalist for Le Nouvelliste, the most influential newspaper in Haiti, and a host for the Magik 9 radio station, survived an assassination attempt also in the Delmas commune when he was arriving at the station to broadcast his Panel Magik program.

The attack occurred shortly before 7:00 in the morning, and the car in which Alphonse was "was sprayed with bullets," according to what Frantz Duval, editor-in-chief of Le Nouvelliste, commented on that occasion.

At its midyear meeting last April, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) presented a report that considered practicing journalism in Haiti "continues to be difficult and risky, exposing professionals to precarious and highly vulnerable conditions."

Throughout 2023, Paul Jean Marie, a journalist for radio Lumière, was killed by criminals who, on May 5, entered his house in the municipality of Croix-des-Bouquets, east of the capital.

Ricot Jean, a reporter for Radio-Télé Évolution Inter from Saint-Marc (north), was also murdered. His body was found in a wasteland on April 25, and Dumesky Kersaint, from Radio Télé Inurep, was shot to death on April 18 in Carrefour, southwest of Port-au-Prince.

In addition, Blondine Tanis, co-host of the "Tribune Matinale" program on Radio Rénovation FM (107.1FM), was kidnapped on July 21 when she was entering her home in the Delmas neighborhood east of the capital and was released on the night of Sunday the 30th "in a deplorable state of health," according to his relatives.

On June 13, Marie Lucie Bonhomme, a well-known presenter of Radio Vision 2000 and owner of the Télé Pluriel radio and television station, was also forcibly taken from her residence in Tabarre, northeast of Port-au-Prince, brought to the base of a gang and released hours later.

A week later, Pierre Louis Opont, Bonhomme's husband and former president of Haiti's electoral tribunal — whom several media outlets identify as co-owner of Télé Pluriel — was kidnapped by the same gang that held the presenter and released two months later.

Also kidnapped this year were Robert Dénis, general director of TV Canal Bleu and current president of the National Association of Haitian Media; Lebrun Saint-Hubert, General Director of Community Radio 2000; Jean Thony Lorthé, presenter of the "Rafrechi Memwa" program on Radio Vision 2000, and Sandra Duvivier, journalist for Telemax, TV channel 5.

In addition, reporters covering political marches or rallies are often verbally or physically attacked by protesters who associate them with the opposing camp, according to a study on media development in Haiti published by Unesco this year.

The report added that attacks against the press occur frequently, and their perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

On July 31, Radio Galaxie reporter Arnold Junior Pierre was "brutally beaten by hooded individuals" while residents of the city's southwest marched to protest one of the gangs operating in that sector.

"Our collaborator's attackers seized his mobile phone shortly before destroying it. Radio Galaxie strongly condemns the physical aggression against his journalist in exercising his profession," the station noted.

Days before, on July 20, reporters Daniel Lamartinière, from the information portal Vant Bèf info, and Jameson Jean Baptiste, from JB Média, were also beaten by a police officer while covering a demonstration in the Haitian capital against the current government. Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Lamartinière had already suffered injuries to one eye in February 2022 after police officers fired tear gas, lethal bullets, and rubber bullets when the march he was about to cover "had not even started," according to local media reports. In January 2021, the reporter was injured in the face during another march in which the police intervened.

This year, a member of the National Board of the Haitian Observatory for Law and Press Freedom, Amentha Léonard, was also attacked by gang members in the department of Nippes (southwest). Blondson Bachtmy Délien, general director of the portal Clin D'œil Info, filed a complaint for "persistent threats" against him after publishing information about a former mayor.

A resolution on Haiti approved by the IAPA during its 78th General Assembly held in Madrid, Spain, in October 2022 stressed that the climate of violence and the political, economic, and security crisis in which this country is immersed keep journalists in a defenseless and high-risk situation.

The IAPA called on the Haitian government to guarantee the preservation of freedom of expression and the free and safe exercise of journalism and urged the press organizations of the Americas to express their solidarity and support for the journalists and media outlets that continue to fulfill its informative mission despite the current circumstances.

In 2022, nine reporters were murdered: Francklin Tamar from Radio Solidarité; Fritz Dorilas from Megastar radio; Romelo Vilsaint and Wilguens Louissaint, both digital media contributors; Tess Garry of Lebon FM radio; Frantzsen Charles of FS NEWS; Tayson Lartigue, by Tijèn Jounalis; Maxihen Lazarre, from Rois des infos, and Amady John Wesley, from radio Écoute FM.

Two other journalists, Edner Décime, from the AlterPresse agency, and Oscar Joseph, a longtime coordinator of audiovisual programs for the Ministry of Education, were kidnapped last year and later released after their ransoms were paid.

*Javier Valdivia is a journalist based in Miami and an expert on Haiti. He was Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Listín Diario newspaper in the Dominican Republic and a former correspondent for the Chinese agency Xinhua in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.