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‘No one will protect us’: how Haiti became deadly for journalists | Haiti

When we learned on October 30 that another reporter had been arrested in Port-au-Prince, the journalists rushed to the police station where Roberto Dimanche was being held.

Journalists demanded the freedom of the radio journalist who had been jailed for covering a protest before being arrested and beaten, colleagues said.

But as the police prepared to disperse the crowd of protesting journalists, one of them, Romelo Vilsaint, was shot dead in the head and collapsed on the concrete floor.

“Some colleagues say he was shot in the head while others say he was shot, so there are conflicting reports as to how he was killed, but there is no There is no dispute as to who killed him,” Widlore said. Mérancourt, editor of AyiboPost, an independent Haitian news site. “It’s a systemic problem.”

Vilsaint is one of at least eight journalists who have been killed or missing in 2022 while covering the country’s serious socio-political crisis, according to Godson Lubrun, president of the Haitian Online Media Association. This number is the highest in two decades.

The island nation has become so lawless since the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021, that the United States and Mexico are considering responding to Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s request to send foreign troops.

And as journalists attempt to report the reality of spiraling violence, the worst hunger crisis in recent history and the return of cholera, they increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs.

In January, Wilguens Louis-Saint and John Wesley Amady were shot and their bodies burned for covering up violence in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood disputed by rival gangs.

And in September, Frantsen Charles and Tayson Latigue were murdered by heavily armed men while on a mission in Cité Soleil, a slum controlled by the warring G9 and G-Pep gangs.

“Press conditions have deteriorated dramatically over the past two years, to the point that it is now one of the deadliest countries in the hemisphere for the media,” said Natalie Southwick, Americas program coordinator. Latin and Caribbean Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many, like Roberson Alphonse, escaped assassination attempts. Editor-in-chief of Haiti’s oldest newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, Alphonse was shot in both arms when his car was sprayed with bullets on his way to work.

Three police officers armed with firearms walk towards the cameraman, waving their arms.
Police defend the entrance to a police station where journalist Romelson Vilsaint was shot dead during a protest. Photography: Ramon Espinosa/AP

Now that the gangs have taken over much of the capital, they are free to use violence to silence the media without any repercussions, Mérancourt said.

“Every time we publish we put targets on our backs and there is nothing and no one who wants to protect us. I am afraid every day for my team.

Increasingly, the attackers are not young men in bandanas holding assault rifles, say human rights monitors. From now on, it is also the State which targets the media.

The death of Romelo Vilsaint – who was killed while demonstrating at the police station – is the latest example of “an attack on freedom of the press” by the security forces, according to Lubrun. “Romelo Vilsaint was just doing his job as a journalist to inform.”

Haiti National Police Director General Frantz Elbe sent a statement of condolences to Vilsaint’s family and said an investigation would be opened to establish how he died.

Police distrust of the media dates back to the dark days of Haiti’s dictatorship, Mérancourt said, but has increased this year as the streets of Port-au-Prince have become lawless.

Police consider journalists interviewing gangs or protesters as proof that they have sided with them, said Louis-Henri Mars, director of the Haitian peacebuilding association Lakou Lapè.

“Some members of the Haitian National Police seem to accuse journalists of working for gangs, while journalists criticize the way they suppress protests,” Lapè said.

Police violence against journalists became frequent as Henry’s government – with little military might or constitutional legitimacy – lost control to heavily armed gangs.

“Not only are the police failing to do the bare minimum to keep journalists safe, but in fact the police are often the source of violence against the press,” Southwick said.

Attacking journalists has become a “tragically common” tactic under Henry to silence critics and quell discontent, Mérancourt said. By cutting off media coverage, police hope to cut oxygen to protests and drive people off the streets.

And thanks to their impunity, which also stems from Haiti’s dictatorship, Mérancourt said they could get away with it.

“People will tell you in Haiti that freedom of the press has a price and the price to pay is sometimes your life. What no one will tell you is that no one will be held responsible for your death,” Mérancourt said.


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