Freedom of Expression

Press release R253/22

SRFOE condemns the murder of journalists Romelo Vilsaint, Garry Tess and Fritz Dorilas, and the attack against journalist Roberson Alphonse in Haiti, and calls on the State to clarify the facts

November 10, 2022

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of journalist Romelo Vilsaint; broadcaster Garry Tess; and journalist Fritz Dorilas. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also condemns the attempted murder of journalist Roberson Alphonse, which occurred on October 25 in the Haitian capital. The Rapporteurship urges the State authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish these acts, considering journalistic work as a possible motive for these crimes.

According to public information, Romelo Vilsaint, a journalist with Jim Studio, Zenyèz TV and Radio Génération 80, was shot in the head by a tear gas canister on October 30. Public reports indicate that the events took place when the police were trying to disperse a group of people demanding the release of Robest Dimanche, a journalist with Radio Tele Zenith, who had been arrested and taken to the Delmas police station in Port-au-Prince while covering a protest.

Furthermore, according to available information, on October 24, 2022, the body of journalist Garry Tess was found dead in the district of Les Cayes, in the South Department of Haiti. The reporter, who covered political and national current affairs as announcer of the program "Gran Lakou" of Radio Lébon FM, had been reported missing since October 18. Information received by this Office indicates that the broadcaster left his home on the above-mentioned date and has not returned since.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur was also informed of the murder of journalist Fritz Dorilas, on November 5, 2022 in the Carradeux district, northeast of Port-au-Prince. According to available information, Dorilas was reportedly killed near his home during armed clashes between local gangs. As far as this Office was able to learn, Dorilas was a broadcaster on Radio Magaster, where he was also co-host of the Saturday program "Le droit, la loi et la justice" (The rule of law, the legislation and justice).

This office also received information on the attempted murder of Roberson Alphonse, a journalist with Le Nouvelliste and Magik9 radio station, on October 25 in Port-au-Prince, while he was on his way to the radio station where he works. According to the information available, unidentified individuals shot at his car, leaving at least a dozen bullet impacts in the vehicle and wounding the journalist in both arms. According to the latest public reports from people close to him, Roberson Alphonse was taken to a hospital in the capital, where he was treated and is said to be in stable condition. According to available information, the journalist covers political issues, citizen security and the multidimensional crisis that Haiti is going through.

According to information received by this Office, the local authorities announced the opening of investigations to clarify the murder of Vilsaint and Tess, and assured that instructions had already been given to determine the circumstances and punish those possibly involved. From the executive branch, the Ministry of Culture and Communication noted that the murder of Tess and the attack against Alphonse "aggravate the difficult situation of the media", and stated that "journalists are essential actors of the rule of law". Additionally, the Office of Citizen Protection requested that the competent authorities guarantee the protection of press workers. The Rapporteurship welcomes the fact that the authorities publicly recognize the value and legitimacy of journalistic work, even in times of crisis, and that they join the call to investigate, prosecute and criminally punish those responsible for these crimes.

SRFOE notes with extreme concern that so far in 2022 the murders of journalists in Haiti amount to eight, taking into account the cases mentioned here, making this one of the deadliest years for the press in the country, according to reports from this Office. As SRFOE has already pointed out, crimes against journalists constitute the most serious violation of the right to freedom of expression, in its social and collective dimension, and cannot be tolerated in a democratic society. Lethal violence against journalists not only restricts the right of society to be informed, but also creates an atmosphere of intimidation and self-censorship that, in the case of Haiti, can limit the democratic dialogue necessary to seek solutions to social, economic, political and human rights problems.

In view of the wave of violence against the press in Haiti, the Rapporteurship reiterates its calls for the State to adopt measures of prevention and protection for journalists so that they can exercise their work freely and safely. Likewise, the Rapporteurship insists on the need for the State to act to address the impunity that still prevails in attacks against the journalistic profession. As this Office has pointed out in the past, the lack of forceful institutional actions in the face of crimes against the press encourages the repetition of violence and silencing. Finally, the Rapporteurship calls on the State and the international community to support efforts to observe and consolidate democratic institutions, the rule of law and compliance with human rights obligations in the country.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

Access here the press release in French.