Two radio stations suspend broadcasting after threats

Reporters Without Borders today deplored an atmosphere of lawlessness in Haiti that has led two radio stations to go off the air in recent days after threats to their staff. A journalist from a third station was physically attacked.

“Unless these threats are thoroughly investigated and those responsible punished, any official statement seeking to reassure the media will be an empty gesture, especially in a country where impunity reigns for government supporters who threaten, attack and kill journalists,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

He rejected a statement by Aristide that invented attacks on the media were the biggest threat to press freedom and called his remarks “an incitement to attack journalists” at a time when people were looking to him to curb the excesses of his supporters.

The privately-owned Port-au-Prince station Radio Kiskeya stopped broadcasting on 26 September and evacuated their offices after being told that the building was to be burned down that evening. The station also received several threatening phone calls and faxes. Reuters news agency said the threats came after the station’s coverage of the arrest of the head of an organisation defending the rights of thousands of people who recently lost money in a collapsed pyramid scam based on traditional cooperatives. The station resumed broadcasting the next day.

Also on 26 September, another Port-au-Prince radio station, Caraïbes FM, decided to stop broadcasting news for several hours in protest against threats it had received, apparently from pro-government organisations.

The next day, Roger Damas, of Radio Ibo, was attacked by three strangers when he arrived at the radio station. He said they threatened to burn it down.

Communications minister Mario Dupuy immediately called the threats “unacceptable” and said the government would “not tolerate them.” President Aristide was meanwhile quoted by the Haitian News Agency (AHP) as condemning people who he said used “bogus” attacks on the press to “make it look as if the media is gagged” in Haiti. He reiterated his government’s commitment to press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders has several times denounced the impunity enjoyed by those, mostly government supporters, who threaten, attack and kill journalists criticising the government.