PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Government supporters in Haiti (search) are increasingly harassing and attacking journalists, underlining growing anger and desperation as they confront a bloody rebellion.
One Haitian radio reporter was shot and wounded in the northern city of Cap-Haitien (search) on Saturday by government loyalists who accused him of working for rebels.
Three Mexican journalists were attacked Friday with rocks and machetes by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) while covering an opposition march. They were saved by helmets and flak jackets, and weren't seriously hurt.
Another Haitian radio journalist, Radio Hispaniola director Elie Sem Pierre, was shot twice in the back on Friday in Port-au-Prince (search). He was among at least 14 people hurt when a protest was broken up by people identified by marchers as Aristide supporters.
Doctors said Pierre could be paralyzed by a bullet that passed through his neck. He was speaking but could only move his left foot and was undergoing surgery.
"I don't want him to die," said his 14-year-old son Toto Pierre, crying.
Pierre said he was driving with his son when a car filled with Aristide loyalists ordered them to stop. He said two got into Pierre's car, ordering him to drive on. Two blocks ahead, they ordered the son out and shot Pierre.
Even though Pierre wasn't allied with either side, he received threatening letters accusing him of backing rebels, said Eluege Pierre, his wife. "I told him to leave the country. If he would have listened to me this would not have happened."
The attacks came the same week Aristide urged the international press to show the world how Haitians were fighting for democracy.
"We share sympathy with all of you," Aristide told reporters Saturday. "We will do our best to protect all human beings."
He also blamed Friday's violence on "people from the opposition claiming" to be his supporters.
Increasingly, militants are confiscating photo and video images that could reflect badly on Aristide's battered government — or mark them for retribution should the rebels win.
Foreign reporters filming a chaotic scramble for scarce gasoline in Cap-Haitien were surrounded by dozens of angry government supporters on Thursday.
"They don't have any right to come here and ask questions and take photos," screamed one man. "Give us the cameras!" shouted others as they pounded on the journalists' car.
An Associated Press Television News cameraman was forced to hand over his tape and an Associated Press photographer to erase images on a digital camera.
"I think they don't want the press, especially the foreign press, to report what's going on here to the world," said Guy Delva, president of the Association of Haitian Journalists, who long have been targeted by Aristide loyalists.
"There is no doubt anymore, they are specifically targeting the (foreign) media," said Roberto Andrade, a cameramen for Mexico's TV Azteca, who was chased, stoned and threatened Friday.
A cameraman and reporter of the Mexican network Televisa also were attacked. One was saved from a machete blow by his helmet.
Andrade and the second Mexican cameraman hid in residents' houses as militants searched for them; once found, the men demanded their tapes of the march. The two claimed to have lost them.
Many journalists have been subject to extortion attempts or had guns waved at them, by both rebels and Aristide backers at roadblocks since the uprising began Feb. 5.
The rebels often are welcoming to journalists, but they also haven't been free of threatening attitudes.
"We welcome the press, but we will expel any lying journalists," said Wilfort Ferdinand, a rebel leader.
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has recorded more than 40 attacks on the press so far this year. Delva said last year there were about 100. "Attacks on the press are increasing," he said.
A number of Haitian journalists have been threatened, shot or killed.
Haiti's most prominent journalist, Jean Dominique, was assassinated in 2000 at his Radio Haiti-Inter station after his reports, once full of praise for Aristide, turned critical.
But foreigners had been largely spared until December, when Aristide supporters at one demonstration began shouting, "Foreign press get out! We don't want you here."