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MINUSTAH Intimidates Journalist on World Press Freedom Day

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Issue: 46 Section: Accounts Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: peacekeeping, media, UN, Journalism

May 9, 2007

MINUSTAH Intimidates Journalist on World Press Freedom Day

by Judith Scherr

MINUSTAH troops during a raid. Bois Neuf, Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 28 February 2007. Photo: Logan Abassi, MINUSTAH

On his way to cover a UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) police operation in Cité Soleil's Little Haiti neighbourhood, freelance reporter Jean Ristil, who was riding his motorcycle, was stopped by a group of Brazilian soldiers who surrounded him and pointed their guns at him.

"Three of them grabbed me and twisted my arm" Ristil said through a translator. They held him by his neck and took him inside a nearby school, which has been transformed by MINUSTAH into a military base inside Cité Soleil.

When they took him inside the school, they saw that he was wearing press identification around his neck.
"It was Thursday, May 3, the World Day of Press Freedom," Ristil said.

Inside, he saw somebody in handcuffs. MINUSTAH troops asked him if the man was a bandit. "I told them I didn't know him," Ristil said. Then they started kicking the man.

They made Ristil face the wall and spread his arms apart to search him. "One of the soldiers was going to hit me in the back, but another stopped him saying, 'No he's a journalist.'"

After about 30 minutes they brought in another man who had been beaten. "I saw them hit him with a gun," Ristil said. The man was wearing a badge that showed he worked as security at the Chapi Clinic. The man asked the soldiers to loosen his handcuffs because they were hurting him and they replied that if he asked again they would beat him.

Meanwhile, people outside were calling for his release. Ristil was able to leave, but by that time the soldiers had damaged parts of his motorcycle while attempting to search it.

Ristil did not report the arrest directly to authorities, but went on the radio to inform listeners of what had happened.

Twice in recent weeks while riding his motorcycle Ristil was approached from behind by a UN tank which then put on its brakes just behind him, in an effort, he thinks, to intimidate him.

"Right now I'm very afraid." If no one were around, he says he could have been seriously hurt.

Ristil is a freelance reporter for the Black Commentator, Radio Lakou in New York, Associated Press, and HaitiAnalysis.com, among other news outlets.

Ristil, along with an American journalist, was arrested and briefly put in jail by SWAT members of the Haitian police force in September 2005 after they allegedly witnessed the police officers planting weapons at the church of Father Gerald Jean-Juste.

Ristil was also arrested in November 2005, this time near the Central Headquarters of the Judicial Police (DCPJ). He recalls being beaten after he refused to hand over photographs that he had taken showing the results of violent raids carried out by the Haitian police and UN forces in Cité Soleil.

Freelance journalist Jean Ristil recounted the incident to Bay Area journalist Judith Scherr by telephone through a translator on May 6, 2007.

Freelance journalist Jean Ristil recounted the incident to Bay Area journalist Judith Scherr by telephone through a translator on May 6.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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