Unidentified gunmen opened fire on Pedro Fernandez, the El Nacional correspondent in the town of San Francisco de Macorís, yesterday as he was driving through the Los Chiripos neighborhood, known for its illegal drugs trade.
He was able to get out of his car and take shelter, escaping unhurt from what did not appear to be a random attack. A week earlier, tear gas grenades were thrown at his house by unidentified attackers after the journalist reported that he had evidence of a plot to kill him in January.
A hand-written letter left at the scene warned the journalist that he would be killed unless he stopped writing about the city's drug outlets. He had received several death threats since writing about attacks at several centres of the drugs trade, according to the newspapers El Dia and El Jaya.
"Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns these attacks," said Camille Soulier, head of the organization's Americas desk. "Pedro Fernandez should be given the protection of a bodyguard immediately. We urge the Dominican authorities to undertake an investigation as soon as possible to find the perpetrators of the attack and those behind it."
Violence towards journalists has been growing in recent weeks. In early June, two journalists were summarily detained in a heavy-handed manner by the police narcotics squad.
The Dominican Republic is ranked 68th of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Dominican journalist names general, prosecutor in ‘cahoots’ with traffickers
Prominent journalist Pedro Fernández denied Wednesday that the attack by gunfire against him stems from his son’s 600,000 peso debt with alleged drug trafficker Yuyo Paula, and cited National Police general Neivi Luis Pérez and Duarte Province prosecutor Reyes Victoria for what might happen to him and his family.
He said the local police and prosecutors are in cahoots with drug gangs.
In a press conference, Fernández rejected the bodyguards authorized by president Danilo Medina just hours after Reporters Without Borders demanded his protection from alleged drug traffickers who reportedly shot out the windows of his SUV while driving through a “hot” sector of San Francisco, the country’s notorious drug capital.
He said many police officers are on the side of the drug traffickers headed by Paula.
“It’s safer to walk alone and unprotected than with police agents, since they can kill you and claim otherwise, because they’re up to their necks with drug trafficking, said Fernández, who has received the support of Dominican Republic’s Journalists Association -CDP- and other workers’ unions.
The threats and attacks against the journalist and his family come after he denounced the high number of drug pushers and 12 murders including those of business leaders Fernandez says the police and prosecutor in San Francisco, have yet to clarify.
Reporters Without Borders is shocked by the heavy-handed arrests of two journalists by drug police during separate operations in the past two weeks, and the arrests of the daughters of a third journalist in one of the incidents, especially as violence against journalists is rare in the Dominican Republic.
In both cases, local prosecutors endorsed the arrests by members of the National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD), whose actions were condemned as "anti-journalistic, anti-democratic, anti-citizen and illegal" by Olivo de León, the head of the Dominican Journalists' Union (CDP).
When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, DNCD spokesman Miguel Medina defended the DNCD's actions.
"Such heavy-handed behaviour must not become the norm," said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders America's desk. "The authorities must guarantee a serious and independent investigation so that such crimes do not go unpunished. No explanation by Medina justifies the police brutality and the arbitrary actions of the prosecutors".
In the first incident, Gerardo de Jesús Abreu, the producer of the programme "Tiempo Informativo" on local TV station Valle Visión Canal 10, was arrested while filming a drug raid in the central province of La Vega on 11 June.
The DNCD took his camera and mobile phone, handcuffed him and detained him in his own car while continuing the raid. The prosecutor in charge of the operation, Leonidas Suárez, told him: "You journalists have a nerve, you just spoil other people's work. You needing a good beating." De Jesús was eventually released.
Medina's only explanation for the journalist's arrest was his presence.
In the second incident, DNCD officers led by prosecutor Cindy Burgos accosted and arrested journalist Genry Morel outside the home of well-known radio presenter Ramón Sánchez in the northern city of Santiago de los Caballeros on 14 June. Then they went into Sánchez's home and harassed and arrested his two daughters, Gissel and Saihya Sánchez, who had been filming Morel's arrest.
The prosecutor subsequently offered to release them in exchange for their promise not to file a complaint against her.
Medina claimed that Morel had refused to show any ID to the police, while the two sisters attacked one of the police officers
More drugs are sold than rice in Higuey, lawmaker warns
Altagracia province deputy Juan Julio Campos warned Tuesday that in his city there’re more drugs sold than rice, which in his view is done in cahoots with National Police agents.
Faced with the situation, the lawmaker demands the Government’s intervention of Higuey at once. Drugs has become Higuey’s main enemy, especially for youngsters.”
As an example, Campos cited the death of Police Sgt. Juan Carlos Felix, fatally shot Sunday when he was allegedly shaking down drug pushers.
The lawmaker said he hopes the situation is resolved before the family values are completely lost, “or worse still, that lives in Higuey continue being lost at the hands of drug trafficking.