re posted from Global Research
Haiti’s Martelly Government’s Assault on Local Journalists and Community Radio
According to the International News Safety Institute (INSI), over 100 journalists were killed in 2015, many of them by assassins. However shocking this number might be, it merely gives a glimpse into the savagery that has been unleashed against members of the press throughout the world. For one, journalists who work for small community radio stations rather than national news organizations tend to be omitted from such international counts. For another, journalists in countries with poor human rights records suffer numerous abuses, death being only the final blow.
In Haiti, where freedom of the press has been grudgingly tolerated for the last two decades or so, the latest assault on journalism began with verbal insults, like so many other abusive relationships.
The signs had been there, like the orders to shut up and veiled threats of retribution for posing the wrong questions, but on October 3, 2011 the overt public insult against a Haitian could not be ignored. Journalist Etienne Germain, of Port-au-Prince’s Scoop FM radio, a 24/7 news station, asked Michel Martelly, Haiti’s president of five months who had been handpicked by Hillary Clinton, to report his progress on forming a higher judiciary council (CSJP). First Martelly ignored the question while he answered a foreign reporter in English. Later, when Mr. Germain repeated himself and pointed out that the president had favored a foreigner over a compatriot, Martelly thundered: “Look, if you persist, I’ll insult you and your mama!” Far from regretting his behavior, a few days later, when offered a chance to explain himself, Martelly told the press: “I didn’t like the way I was approached. That’s my answer. That’s all.”
By early 2012, Martelly’s vulgar outbursts had become so commonplace that many journalists joined the other marchers in Haiti’s streets to demand, among other things, respect for the press. The insults did not stop. Martelly sank to yet new lows when confronted with questions from ordinary Haitian citizens, whom he apparently considers to be even farther beneath him.
During an election campaign rally for his political party in the city of Miragoane on July 28, 2015, when a young woman reminded him that he had not kept his previous campaign promises to the town, he rebuked her: “I came to talk to you; you must listen,” and then he added: “W$%re! If you want to have s*x, find yourself a man to !@ck you behind the wall! I’m ready to !@ck you on the podium!” as he gestured suggestively, to laughter and applause. This particular stunt caused one political party to withdraw from the barely functioning regime, which lacks a parliament. The symbolism of a Haitian president who serves a foreign occupation while he devalues Haitians, on the 100th anniversary of the first United States occupation of Haiti, was not lost on anyone.
The public insults against the press have morphed into overt calls to corruption and expressions of disdain at the poverty of journalists, as if they are mistresses to be publicly humiliated and discarded from a sadomasochistic fling.
In an open letter, the national station Radio Télé Kiskeya exposed its discovery that, at a Christmas reception on December 23, 2014, Martelly offered “small informal” gifts to a select group of journalists and then referred them to his spokesman and the head of his communication’s office to be organized in single file and get handed envelopes full of cash ($1,100 for some and $870 for others) as they were being photographed. At Radio Kiskeya, three journalists who had accepted these gifts of cash were publicly sanctioned.
On November 4, 2015, the Communications Minister, Mario Dupuy, announced that the government would serve as a banker to guarantee that any journalist could buy a new car on credit and make monthly payments of only about $130. Mr. Dupuy, a career journalist who has apparently gone over to the dark side, as evidenced by his multi-thousand-dollar suit in a country where the minimum wage is about 45 cents per hour, further proposed that his office would soon recruit and train media workers to work for the government’s communication services.
Inducements to corruption and vulgar sexual insults are understandably disconcerting and an affront to polite society, but that is the least of it. The vituperations of people in power are not mere words.
They usually represent to others a license to abuse and kill the members of a disadvantaged group: in this case, dark and poor Haitians who have the temerity to presume they can address the ruling class as their equals. Indeed, Haitian journalists have become the prey of the rich and their affiliates, such as bodyguards, and the members of the foreign-trained Haitian National Police (PNH). Furthermore, a pervasive corruption and weakened judiciary combine to guarantee that the perpetrators of crimes against journalists are almost never punished. In at least one case, the president’s security detail appeared to be under orders to assault certain members of the press.
Specifically, a member of Martelly’s security corps rushed Rodrigue Lalanne, a Radio Kiskeya journalist, as he tried to ask the president a question on October 1, 2013, on the then recent Dominican constitutional court’s decision to denationalize its citizens of Haitian ancestry. Months after a clearly identified irate policeman hit Radio TV Signal cameraman Samus David François’ motorcycle with a police car in July 2015 and then beat the journalist with his tripod, the case remains bogged down in legal technicalities. After a savage beating of Radio Télé Express journalist Gerdy Jeremie by two police commandoes as she covered a moto-taxi drivers protest in November 2014, one hearing about the case was postponed because the defendants failed to appear in court, and another because the dean of a court had ordered the premises shut. After much public protest, a hearing was held, and the court ordered the policemen to pay damages, but the award hardly covered Jeremie’s bills.
In one of the most egregious cases, journalist Wendy Phèle of Radio Télé Zenith (RTZ), a station in Haiti’s Cul-de-Sac plain, had to go into hiding two months after getting shot multiple times and being left for dead on March 17, 2012 by a bodyguard of one of Martelly’s interim mayors. According to Phèle, who lost a kidney in the attack, his assailant continues to circulate freely and to intimidate residents of the town, although charges have been brought against him. Another member of RTZ, George Fortuné, was violently assaulted by a policeman in front of a higher official and then photographed as a threat, while the journalist covered a protest on November 29, 2014
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