In this period there was an increase in cases of attacks, threats or legal proceedings against some 30 reporters and radio and television producers on the part of citizens and police officers.
Some of these episodes have occurred within the framework of the campaign for presidential elections scheduled for May 20, one of the most relevant being a military and judicial operation begun early in February against the online newspaper Siglo 21.com, whose owner, television commentator Guillermo Gómez and one of his sons were investigated following complaints that from their home and private office – both raided by police – they hacked e-mails, bank accounts and other private documents of senior government officials and people in business, with the intent to publish false or manipulated information. Shortly after the operation, Gómez and his son were released from detention, with so far no charges being laid against them regarding violation of the laws that set punishment for cyber crime.
The Siglo 21.com server was deactivated in those raids, which caused the media outlet to go offline temporarily. The online newspaper had announced that it would be publishing a series of ten reports on alleged government corruption, it being able to publish only three of them. The newspaper renewed its operations after reactivating its server and its digitalizing equipment.
First Lady Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, vice presidential candidate for the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), filed a lawsuit against television commentator Marcos Martínez of Canal 55 Teleuniverso television in the city of Santiago, accusing him of falsification of documents after he revealed that she had bank accounts of 43 million euros in European banks. The Bank of Denmark denied that such accounts existed on its books. The Santiago District Attorney’s Office interrogated Martínez, but to date he has not been put on trial. He complained that since late March his program had been taken off the air under pressure from the government, but the channel’s management said that the program had been suspended because its producer had stopped airing it live for more than a week.
Throughout the electoral campaign several journalists have complained of mistreatment by some candidates’ security guards while they were covering public activities. Reporter Ileana Rosario of Canal 5 Telemicro television said she was punched in the stomach during an altercation between security guards of the PLD vice presidential candidate and party militants at the Cibao Arena, before the start of a ceremony to announce her candidacy. Rosario said she had to get medical attention at a hospital for several hours because of her injuries.
Another television reporter, Edmundo Ledesma of Canal 16, complained that he was mistreated by security guards of former president Hipólito Mejía, the presidential candidate of the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) at a political event. A video that shows the mistreatment remained for several days unaired by the television station Canal 7’s “SIN” newscast, and then the reporter responsible for its production, Gilbert Guzmán, quit his job in protest at the censorship. He accused the media’s directors of ordering postponement of broadcast of the video and said that he was not going to put his credibility on the line with this act of censorship.
Johanna Pérez, also with Canal 16 television, reported that security guards of former president Mejía had physically and verbally attacked her and seized her microphone during an attempt to interview the candidate at a private club in Santo Domingo.
In January Anthony Cordero, a reporter with Canal 29 television in Santiago, complained that he was badly beaten by members of the Police Anti-Drug Unit as he was filming a drug raid. In a similar incident journalist Paul Menguis, correspondent of Canal 5 Telemicro television in Barahona, reported that he was punched by the chief of the Police Criminal Investigation Department in that city as he was covering details of the murder of a former sergeant major belonging to that agency.
In February, a Dominican Air Force female officer punched reporter Franklin Guerrero, creator of the news photography section of a popular television program, in the face because he was taking pictures during a trial hearing of her brother on a charge of pretending to be a surgeon. She later apologized to the reporter.
Journalist Jhonny Alberto Salazar, producer of a radio program in the town of Nagua in eastern Dominican Republic, was ordered by a court to pay 1 million Dominican pesos on a charge of defamation and libel brought by a local lawyer. During the trial the presiding judge prevented journalists from being present, which gave rise to a joint protest by the country’s news media.
In March, the First Three-Judge Court of the Santiago Judicial District threw out, for alleged lack of evidence, the case against three defendants accused of the August 7, 2008 murder of television cameraman and producer Normando García, known as Azabache, as he was talking with a taxi driver. The Public Prosecutor’s Office immediately expressed its disagreement with the action and announced it would appeal, so that the murder would not remain unpunished.
Early this month, the Inter-American Human Rights Court issued a ruling against the Dominican Republic government, ordering it to establish the facts surrounding the disappearance of university professor and journalist Narciso González Medina, known as Narcizaso, in 1994 after leaving a movie theater in Santo Domingo. the Court is asking the government to punish those responsible for González’s disappearance.
In another positive development, the National Council for State Reform and the Education Ministry have begun a nationwide educational campaign on Law 200-04, which establishes free access to official information sources. It is planned to hold 700 workshops to train specialists who in turn will teach citizens, students and neighbors about how to use this law in favor of a democratic culture.