SPJ Statement on HaitiFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Irwin Gratz, President, (207) 329-6203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Kubiske, International Journalism Committee, (809) 886-9750 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The situation in Haiti remains of growing concern not just for journalists but also for all people who cherish freedom of speech and press.
Ever since the demise of the dictatorships in the late 1980s, Haiti has had a number of governments, many of which tried to install democratic institutions and which also sought to protect independent media. In too many instances these efforts failed and chaos in the society and political system rose up.
Now, Haiti is once again being ripped apart by roving gangs. Some are loyal to the ousted former president. Some are loyal to other political organizations but many more are loyal to the drug lords, people traffickers, and money launderers.
Journalists are being intimidated by these gangs and by government edict. As a result rumors run wild and accurate information is difficult to get. As journalists we have always believed allowing free media to operate means less misinformation and greater understanding. What is happening now in Haiti creates and exacerbates an atmosphere of distortion that increases violence and human rights violations.
It is for this reason the Society of Professional Journalists finds most disturbing that apparently the existing government of Haiti has been persecuting journalists and has allowed gangs to beat and kill journalists. The government also has sought to control reporting of natural disasters. In addition the government has apparently redefined what is fair reporting to exclude any opposition voices.
We now draw attention to the current case involving Georges Venel Remarias, founder and director of Haitian Press Agency (AHP) and Radio Solidarite.
Now we have learned that Mr. Remarais was recently served with a summons to appear before a Haitian court. Mr. Remarais was outside of Haiti when the summons was served but a member of his staff reported the document accused him of “criminal associations” and “fraud.”
Little is known of exactly who issued the summons or the exact nature of the allegations. We at SPJ do not pretend to be able to judge the legality of such a summons or of these charges. We are concerned, however, that this action seems to be a part of an overall plan by the government to silence AHP and Radio Solidarite.
Apparently the government is upset that AHP and Radio Solidarite have been unflinching in their efforts to report the violations of human rights by Haitian forces. While other independent media outlets exist, AHP and Radio Solidarite are, by best estimate, the only ones left who vocally oppose the current government.
The ruling “Council of the Wise” had ordered radio stations that permit “bandits” to speak over the airwaves would be shut down. The definition of “bandits” is vague and is seen by some journalists as anyone opposing the government. Apparently it is the continued reporting by Radio Solidarite from shantytowns and poor neighborhoods about human rights violations that has so upset the Haitian government.
We call on the Haitian government to cease its attempts to stifle the media.
We further call on it to ensure the safety of Mr. Remarais during his hearings and to make those hearings open to the public and the international media.
We ask that the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces and the U.S. government closely monitor this situation and make public their observations.
And lastly, we call on all other international journalism groups to speak out on behalf of reporters and editors being persecuted in Haiti.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.