Latino Voices

Dominican Journalists Claim Death Threats For Covering Citizenship Debate

Four journalists in the Dominican Republic say they have been threatened for covering their country’s increasingly contentious citizenship and immigration debate and accuse an outspoken nationalist of calling for their deaths.

The journalists filed a lawsuit this month alleging Dominican nationalist Luis Díaz fomented the threats at a public protest. The reporters also demanded that the government address the growing trend of protesters calling for “death to traitors” during demonstrations advocating the expulsion of undocumented Haitian migrants.

One of the journalists, Juan Bolívar Díaz, said the reporters have been threatened while at the supermarket and while driving through Santo Domingo. Bolívar Díaz, who has been reporting for four decades in print and television, said he and three colleagues have been targeted for denouncing hostility toward Dominicans of Haitian descent and the country's widespread repugnance against Haitian migrants.

“There are sectors and groups that are trafficking in nationalist sentiment,” Bolívar Díaz told The Huffington Post. “There’s racism and a historic anti-Haitianism in this country, so these people want to silence the media who are defending human rights… Some people promote a veritable apartheid.”

Dominican officials opened an investigation and interrogated Díaz, the nationalist accused in the lawsuit, last week. He was released without charges, according to news reports, though the case remains open. Outside the interrogation, dozens of protesters chanted slogans, including, “We are all Luis,” and “Death to the traitors.”

Luis Díaz declines to speak to reporters while the case proceeds, according to Dominican daily Listín Diario. Attempts to reach him through his attorney, Leonte Riva, were unsuccessful.

The Dominican attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorney Wade McMullen said the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and the Caribbean Institute for Human Rights planned to file a petition on behalf of the four journalists with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“In this extremely concerning climate where journalists are receiving death threats and the government isn’t doing what’s necessary to investigate these threats, we find it necessary to go to an international body to ensure the protection of these journalists’ lives and enable to them to continue to do their jobs,” McMullen told HuffPost.

Fausto Rosario, director of Dominican digital news outlet Acento, said each article he publishes concerning citizenship or immigration issues unleashes a torrent of aggressive personal attacks painting him as sympathizer of what he referred to as a “supposed plan from the United States, France and Canada to fuse the Dominican Republic with Haiti.”

Rosario said authorities hadn’t done enough to protect journalists like Bolívar Díaz and the other three reporters in the lawsuit -- Huichi Lora, Amelia Dechamps and Roberto Cavada.

“The government is totally indifferent,” Rosario told HuffPost. “The government can’t allow these things to happen and stay quiet.”

A series of legal measures dating back to 2004 have done away with birthright citizenship in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration from Haiti. A Constitutional Court decision in 2013 applied the new standard retroactively, stripping thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship.

Under intense international criticism, the Dominican government passed a law modifying the ruling. The law returned citizenship to some Dominicans of Haitian descent, but only extended lawful migrant status to others, who would then have to apply for naturalization after two years.

Fewer than 9,000 people applied to normalize their status under the law by the time the registration period expired on Feb. 1. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International, however, estimates that more than 100,000 people might have benefitted. Human rights groups attributed the low registration numbers to lack of publicity and poor management by the government.

The Dominican government has staunchly defended the laws and bristles at criticism, complaining of undue influence by international human rights organizations defending Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants.

“Amnesty International is an organization with private interests, directed by Mexicans who want to drag our country down so that tourism doesn’t prosper and instead people go to Mexico, to the Riviera Maya, where they hang people in the streets, and then you see them on the poles,” the Dominican minister of the interior and police, José Ramón Fadul, said of the U.K.-based group earlier this month. “What do they want? For the country to declare itself a desert, without laws, and that everyone here be equals and that everyone walk around without any kind of proof of identification?”

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