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Death of a second suspect in custody raises doubts as to the authorities' willingness to shed light on Radio Haïti Inter director's murder

(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, RSF expressed its indignation over the mob killing of Panel Rénélus, one of journalist Jean Dominique's presumed killers, the day after his arrest by police. The organisation called for the immediate launch of an investigation so that the police officials who were responsible for the prisoner's security are punished. RSF also urged the president to launch an investigation so that the authors of the crime are punished and their motive is understood.

"There are many areas of uncertainty surrounding this assassination. Why was the prisoner taken to a police station where he was not even locked up in a cell? Why was he taken to Léogane instead of Port-au-Prince? Why did the police not stop the demonstrators?" asked RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "This is the second person suspected of having participated in the journalist's assassination who has died in unclear circumstances after having been arrested by the police," he recalled. "It appears that the police has once again discredited itself in this affair. Even if this is a consequence of simple negligence, it contradicts the many statements by you and your government indicating a desire to shed light on this affair," concluded Ménard.

According to information collected by RSF, on 9 November 2001, Rénélus, a presumed accomplice in Radio Haïti Inter director Dominique's assassination, was killed by a crowd of demonstrators, who stoned him and attacked him with machetes. The incident took place just after Judge Claudy Gassant, who is leading the investigation into the journalist's death, had come to the area and noticed that the prisoner was not being held at the central police station but rather at a smaller station located elsewhere. He asked that the suspect, who was considered to be important to the investigation, be transferred to a safer location. Rather than being detained in a cell, Rénélus was lying on the floor of a hallway in the smaller police station, with his feet and hands cuffed. Shortly after getting back to his car, the judge watched the mob kill the suspect.

"The police gave him over to the mob," the magistrate explained. He reported that the police official in charge of the station refused to lock Rénélus up in a cell despite his request that he do so. Several of the suspect's accomplices, who were locked up in cells, were not attacked. After killing Rénélus, the mob reportedly tried to attack the judge, who was able to leave the area under his bodyguards' protection. No extra police officers were sent to the scene, though Police Director-General Jean Nesly Lucien had promised reinforcements. The police officers who were present apparently took no action to stop the mob. They only fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd after the crime had been committed. The next morning, police spokesperson Jean Dady Siméon spoke to Radio Haïti Inter and explained on the air that "the crowd believed that it [had] sufficient information to try Panel and that it [could] give him the [necessary] sentence."

Rénélus was arrested the previous evening in Malpasse, a border post at the border with the Dominican Republic, located forty kilometres east of Port-au-Prince. He was immediately transferred to Léogane, located thirty kilometres south-west of the capital. The city of Léogane, where Rénélus is suspected of having committed several crimes, does not have a criminal court. Several observers question why Rénélus was not detained in Port-au-Prince, where he was wanted in the journalist's assassination, though it is necessary to drive through the capital in order to get to Léogane. "Taking him to the smaller police station in Léogane was like throwing him to the lions," one observer told RSF.

Arrested on 15 June 2000, Jean Wilner Lalanne, who was suspected of having served as an intermediary between those who ordered Dominique's assassination and those who carried it out, died a few days later after undergoing a small operation. His body then disappeared from the morgue, though investigators wanted to perform an autopsy.

On 3 April 2000, Radio Haïti Inter director Dominique, Haiti's most renowned political analyst, was killed with guard Jean-Claude Louissaint in his radio station's courtyard. According to his widow Michèle Montas, "Jean was killed because he was impossible to control." In his 19 October 1999 editorial, the journalist had sharply challenged the ambitions of Dany Toussaint, a member of the Fanmi Lavalas who was elected senator in May 2000. In early August, the examining judge had sought the lifting of Toussaint's parliamentary immunity, because of his presumed involvement in the journalist's assassination. The Senate has yet to take a decision on this, having invoked other priorities.

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