Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and press. Government officials and private actors sometimes restricted this freedom.
Press and Media Freedom: There were isolated incidents of actions against journalists by national and local government officials. As a result, some independent media believed they were unable to criticize the government freely.
On March 14, Vladjimir Legagneur, an independent journalist, went missing after entering Grand-Ravine, a gang-controlled area of Port-au-Prince, to pursue a story about gang activities. Following his disappearance, journalists organized marches and called for a full investigation. On April 5, police announced two arrests in the case while waiting for results from forensic testing on “fresh” human remains found in the area where Legagneur was last seen. The results of the forensic exam were still pending as of October. As of September 15, the HNP had arrested four persons, including a schoolteacher in the area where Legagneur disappeared, in connection with the case.
Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to threats, harassment, and physical assault allegedly due to their reporting. In some instances government authorities participated in these acts.
On August 20, government officials alleged parliament had been attacked by persons with small arms fire and a grenade. Within a few days, however, various media establishments questioned the official narrative, since a preliminary investigation concluded the shots had likely come from inside the building. During the investigation tensions flared between police investigators and parliamentary security personnel, and the latter attempted to bar journalists from covering those exchanges by grabbing and blocking their cameras to prevent them from filming the incident. In the melee security agent Ernst Lee Raphael allegedly assaulted journalist Frantz Cineus of Television Pacific and damaged a camera. The presidents of both chambers of parliament publicly apologized after the initial events, and Raphael was fired. Following the incident, several journalists noted what they described as constant threats from security agents at the parliament who blamed journalists for the public’s negative perception of parliament.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were few allegations of censorship by the government. In March the National Telecommunications Board closed 10 radio stations accused of operating without a license. One such station, Radio Planete, alleged the decision was politically motivated, since one of their journalists hosted a show critical of the government handling of Petro Caribe financing (see section 4). The telecommunications board’s president denied the accusations and reiterated his determination to combat “pirate” stations.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization. Socioeconomic and infrastructure hurdles contributed to the dominance of radio and, to a lesser extent, television, over the internet.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 12 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
In May an NGO focused on rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons said it was barred from hosting a panel discussion on LGBTI issues at the Cap-Haitian State University campus, a government university, even though payment had been accepted for the event.
The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There were several instances when police used force to impose order during demonstrations. Citizens must apply for a permit to hold legal demonstrations. Although impromptu political demonstrations in some instances provoked aggressive law enforcement responses, police generally responded to these protests in a professional and effective manner.
Following the July 6-7 protests against the government’s decision to increase fuel prices, Port-au-Prince prosecutor Dameus ordered the arrest of 64 individuals accused of looting. These individuals included three who were living on property owned by opposition senator Antonio Cheramy. Some members of the opposition called the arrests politically motivated and illegal because a prosecutor can arrest only individuals caught in the process committing a crime. Dameus denied the allegations of “political persecution” and stated the persons arrested were caught carrying numerous items that had been looted from various stores. The detainees were subsequently released.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with international and humanitarian organizations, as well as other countries, in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Of all the IDP camps created following the 2010 earthquake, 3 percent remained. Nearly all IDPs were in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, although several hundred persons also remained displaced by Hurricane Matthew’s destruction of the country’s South Department in 2016. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that more than 37,500 individuals (more than 9,000 households) still resided in IDP camps as of September.
Although the IOM reported progress in the relocation of nearly all Hurricane Matthew IDPs, the rate of camp closures and relocation remained slow. According to a May estimate, 90 percent of those residing in the camps had limited or no access to basic hygiene and health services. IOM statistics showed that the overall post-2010 earthquake IDP population had decreased more than 97 percent from its peak in 2010.
MINUJUSTH’s police force presence in the country did not include a mobile team for IDP camp security patrols, which left the HNP to administer security in the remaining IDP camps. The IOM reported the HNP did not patrol IDP camps, but instead responded only in cases of emergency. Overall, there had not been a stable security force presence in the IDP camps since the departure of MINUSTAH forces in late 2017, although IDP camp residents formed committees to monitor their communities at night and to address cases of gender-based violence. The IOM reported that IDPs liaised directly with the HNP during emergencies.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status or asylum through Haitian missions or consulates abroad. Third-country nationals can also petition for asylum through the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the UNHCR representative, there were fewer than 20 such cases in process.
A lack of coordination between the various ministries that administer the dysfunctional civil registry system and weak consular capacity made obtaining documentation difficult for individuals living inside or outside the country. Due to these systemic deficiencies, many Haitians living abroad without other citizenship or permanent residency were effectively stateless or at risk of statelessness in their country of residence. Undocumented persons of Haitian descent continued to face difficulties in establishing their legal residency or citizenship in countries such as the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, which occasionally resulted in the deportation or spontaneous return of individuals with a claim to non-Haitian citizenship. Despite improved passport delivery domestically, obtaining nationality documents from the Haitian government remained particularly challenging for Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic (DR) seeking to participate in the DR’s migrant regularization plan.