Kidnapping and threats. Continuing violations of the rights of Haiti’s journalists – Haiti Support Group press release, 20 April 2004
The London-based Haiti Support Group, a solidarity organisation working alongside Haiti’s popular, democratic movement since 1992, is very concerned by continuing violations of the human rights of Haitian journalists.
According to Haitian Press Agency reports, on the afternoon of 16 April, Jeanty André Omilert, the Radio Solidarité correspondent in Mirebalais was taken prisoner by a group of ex-soldiers based in the town. Without giving any reason, the ex-soldiers seized Omilert in front of the premises of Radio Excellesior, the local station where he hosts a discussion programme, and then detained him in the town police station.
Family members were refused permission to visit him, and the former soldier known as Philippe, who runs ‘law and order’ operations in the town, denied any knowledge of the journalist’s detention. According to Guyler C. Delva, the head of the Haitian Journalists’ Association, the detention of Omilert was a “kidnapping” because, if an offence has been committed, only the police in possession of a warrant are authorised to make an arrest. Delva asserted that according to information he had received, the kidnapping took place because Omilert had broadcast news deemed contrary to the interests of the armed irregular forces that have controlled the Central Plateau since mid-February.
This disturbing development took place only a short time after the abduction by another group of ex-soldiers in Belle Anse of Lyonel Lazarre, also a local Radio Solidarité correspondent. The men criticised Lazarre for having broadcast information relating to abuses they are alleged to have been involved in and around the town of Belle-Anse in the south-east. The kidnappers beat him and forced him to indicate the location of the home of another colleague working for Radio Ginen, Jacky Jean Baptiste, whom they accused of being close to the deposed President Aristide.
This above two incidents occur in the context of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report dated 22 March which stated that its investigators had interviewed a number of radio journalists in Cap-Haïtien, including journalists with Radio Nationale, who had gone into hiding. These journalists described the lack of security and their resulting fears for their safety, and they gave HRW the names of another dozen journalists who were said to be in hiding too. HRW also reported that, as of 19 March, included among the 16 prisoners held by the armed irregular forces in Cap-Haïtien was Augustin Joseph, an employee of the Peasant Voice of Milot radio station. (Radio Voix Paysanne Milot).
The Haiti Support Group condemns these violations of journalists’ basic human rights, and the clear repression of freedom of speech. We call on the interim government to denounce these illegal detentions and to take action against the ex-soldiers responsible for them. We also call on the human rights and journalists’ rights organisations that were so vocal in condemning attacks on the media during the Aristide/Neptune administration to end their silence on the abuses committed since its demise.
The Haiti Support Group recognises that the free flow of news, information and ideas is one of the keys to a participatory democracy in Haiti, and over the last decade has supported the following:
- the Haitian Information Bureau,
- Libete newspaper,
- the Bwa Kayiman printing press,
- the community radio network.
On Wednesday, 28 April 2004, the Haiti Support Group, in conjunction with the French Institute, will present the UK premiere of “THE AGRONOMIST” – a film-portrait of Haitian human rights activist and pioneering journalist, Jean Dominique, at The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton, London SW9.