After Four Years, No Justice for Murdered Haitian Journalist

  Source: Haiti Analysis

Four years ago, the killing of Abdias Jean, a young Haitian journalist who reported from Haiti for WKAT radio in Florida, was immediately condemned by Amnesty International, the Director General of UNESCO and the Inter American Press Association. His murder was reported in both Reuters and the Associated Press wire services. Guyler Delva, the Secretary General of the Association of Haitian Journalists (and a Reuters correspondent), also condemned the murder and expressed dismay at the indifference of the Haitian commercial media to the death of a journalist.

In 2004, following the coup that ousted the elected Aristide government, an interim government was put in its place with the support of the United States, Canada, and France. Abdias Jean was murdered on January 14, 2005 – nearly a year after the coup. According to US based researcher Tom Reeves, Reuters employees told him that the interim government complained to Reuters about an article Delva had written about the murder.

Before the coup of 2004, Delva had often worked closely with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), harsh critics of Aristide. Following the coup, RSF ignored much of the interim government backed violence against the press. This wasn’t surprising considering that RSF has received support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – a group funded almost entirely by the US congress and that played a major role in a destabilization campaign against the Aristide government. The US spent 70 million dollars between 1994 and 2002 directly on strengthening Aristide’s political opponents

In August of 2006 RSF was questioned on its failure to denounce the murder of Abdias Jean.

RSF’s Haiti expert responded "We asked the police about the killings of Abdias Jean and we were told by the police that it was an attack made by the police but that they didn’t know he was a journalist. He was taking pictures." The RSF representative admitted that it had not met with a single witness to the murder but that all the information they had on the case was based on the testimony of the police, known for their widespread killings and abuses. The damning police testimony was never published.

Haitian police spokeswoman Gessy Coicou said of Abdias Jean: "I haven’t heard of him and I haven’t seen his name in any of the files I have. Many journalists have reported that there are many witnesses. I would advise them to file a complaint." The victim’s mother filed numerous complaints but nothing has come of them. Brian Concannon, of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, scoffed at Gessy Coicou’s statement: "The police know very well who Abdias Jean was. His family filed complaints with the police, the Haitian justice system and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."

The details of the Abdias Jean murder leave little room to doubt that he was murdered because of his work as a journalist.

In the moments prior to his death, Abdias Jean was investigating murders carried out by the Haitian police, specifically the killing of two young boys. After taking photos of the victims, he hid in a friend’s house when he saw police approaching. But the police spotted him; ordered him out of the house, and shot him in front of several witnesses. Reed Lindsay, a US journalist based in Haiti, reported: "They tied his wrists with his own belt, dragged him a block away and put a bullet through his head" The police and other armed groups that backed the interim government were responsible for 4000 political killings in the greater Port-au-Prince area, according to a scientific study published in the Lancet Medial Journal in August 2006.

Violence against poor journalists, often those with cameras, was widespread under the interim government which finally stepped aside for an elected government in April of 2006. A young Haitian photojournalist, Jean Ristil, who had photographed UN peacekeeper and Haitian police violence has been interrogated, tortured and had much of his equipment destroyed by police. On April 7, 2005, journalist Robenson Laraque died from injuries suffered while observing a clash between UN troops and members of the disbanded Haitian military in the city of Petit-Goâve. Later that year unknown assailants murdered another Haitian journalist, Jacques Roche. His killing was exploited by the interim government to imprison the prominent liberation theologian Father Gerard Jean-Juste who consequently became Haiti’s most prominent political prisoner.

The failure to achieve justice for the victims of violence by the interim government and their armed supporters has been widely ignored by the corporate press and even by some press freedom groups like RSF which claim impartiality. The killers of Abdias Jean, much like the killers of thousands of Haitians after the coup of February 2004 remain at large. Although democracy was formally restored in 2006 with the election of Rene Preval, the impact of the interim government endures. The Haitian judiciary recently sentenced Guyler Delva to a month in prison for defaming elite businessman and interim government supporter Senator Rudolph Boulos. Delva remains free pending an appeal. RSF has protested the sentence.

Concannon, a lead lawyer on the historic Raboteau massacre trial, observed, "Abdias Jean’s killing is yet one more example of the double standard, where the lives of poor black men in Haiti matter least. Had he been a journalist with a prominent Haitian or foreign outlet visiting Cite de Dieu, he would have been eulogized for his courage in going into that neighborhood. But he was a poor journalist covering his neighbors, so he has been forgotten."

RSF did not respond to requests for an updated comment on the Abdias Jean murder.