Haiti Police Fire Tear Gas on Journalists Covering Peaceful Anti-Government Protest

Journalists covering a peaceful protest against President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince were attacked by members of Haiti’s national police force with tear gas Wednesday.According to reporters, police first fired tear gas to disperse a large crowd of protesters who were marching through the streets of the capital chanting, “Jovenel’s term is over. Down with dictatorship!”After breaking up the protest, police turned on reporters, firing tear gas and spraying an unknown substance in their faces. At one point, a police unit fired tear gas into a pickup truck belonging to Radio-TV Pacific transporting at least 10 people, overwhelming it with smoke.VOA Creole reporter Matiado Vilme said members of the media had their press badges visible to law enforcement. Some wore bulletproof vests with the words “Press” printed on the front and back. When Vilme took cover behind a nearby pole, she said, she was followed by a police officer who fired a tear gas cannister at her feet.Shaken and furious, the group of journalists with cameras, microphones, mobile phones and various other reporting equipment held high, walked to the Bureau for the Western Department (Bureau Departmental de l’Ouest) to file a complaint against the police.”We spoke to the DDO (Directeur du Departement de l’Ouest, Paul Menard). We explained the situation and gave him examples of journalists who had been victimized by the police,” said Florence Lisene, a VOA Creole stringer who was one of three journalists who filed the complaint.”The only guarantee he gave us was that he was going to bring this complaint to the police chief to be examined and investigated. He also said they would investigate the police backup who committed these actions to determine what disciplinary measures are warranted,” Lisene said.VOA Creole tried to contact Menard for comment but was unsuccessful.A U.S. State Department spokesperson told VOA: “The United States has seen reports of police injuring journalists as they attempted to disperse recent demonstrations. We call on Haitian authorities to respect the freedoms of expression and association and the right to peaceful assembly, and we call on the Haitian National Police Inspector General to conduct a thorough investigation of these incidents.”The Haitian Online Media Association (ANMH) issued a statement denouncing the attack.”ANMH vehemently condemns the barbaric acts committed by the police, of which journalists were victims over the past days,” the organization said.The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement Feb. 9 expressing concern about the police shooting Feb. 8 of two journalists as they covered a protest in the Champ de Mars neighborhood, calling for Moise’s resignation.”Haitian authorities should thoroughly investigate the shootings of journalists Alvarez Destiné and Méus Jeanril, identify those responsible and hold them to account,” CPJ said.One of the wounded reporters has undergone two operations for the injuries he suffered at the hands of police.Haiti Secretary of State for Communications Eddy Jackson Alexis commented on Twitter: “I was stunned to learn that journalist @CheryHaiti was injured today during a protest in the capital. I invite @pnh_officiel to be more careful in its interventions and invite journalists to exercise caution while working.”J’ai appris avec émoi que le journaliste @CheryHaiti a été victime lors d’une manifestation ce jour dans la capitale. J’invite la @pnh_officiel à plus de prévoyance dans ses interventions tout invitant les journalistes à plus de prudence dans ce métier.— Eddy Jackson Alexis (@Eddyjalexis) February 10, 2021A United Nations report published in September 2020 said the uptick in violence against journalists covering protests was cause for concern. Among its recommendations for protecting media workers was “strengthening training for police and law enforcement on freedom of expression, and appropriate behavior in dealing with the media.”

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