PORT-AU-PRINCE – Freedom of the press is improving in Haiti according to international watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Haiti moved up 16 places to number 57 out of 175 countries on the Worldwide Press Freedom Index published last week.

Guy Delva who founded SOS Journalistes in 2005, said the improved rating reflects the increasing freedom enjoyed by the Haitian press. Delva said at the time he formed the group, being a reporter was very difficult, “there was a lot of violence and the government targeted some journalists, including myself.”

But while journalists are no longer targeted by the government, threats remain.

In September, Kerly Dubreus, a journalist and the director of Kon Lanbi Radio in Port de Paix was held for 10 days on the order of a local prosecutor before SOS Journalistes secured his release.

In August, Sainlus Augustin, a reporter for the Voice of America’s Creole service and a correspondent for Radio Kiskeya in the Central Plateau, had to flee to Port-au-Prince with his family after his house was shot at. Augustin said the attacks stemmed from his reporting on ballot stuffing during the senatorial elections in April, which provoked the ire of senatorial candidate and local deputy Wilot Joseph.

A complaint was filed against Joseph and his associates but Delva said nothing has come of it, meanwhile Augustin remains in hiding.

Delva, a frequent contributor to The Haitian Times, said this points to the need for the government and the courts to prosecute and sentence those who intimidate journalists. “You can say we are not attacking journalists, but what are you doing to make sure that those responsible for such acts are punished.”

In an effort to end impunity, an independent commission to support investigations into the cases of murdered journalists was created in August of 2007 with the blessing of President Preval.

So far Delva, who also serves as president of the commission which is made up of eight journalists, says their efforts have contributed to the conviction of 13 people in the cases of three murdered journalists, Brignol Lindor, Jacques Roche and Alix Joseph. The commission is now focusing on the case of Jean Dominique, a well-regarded radio journalist who was murdered on April 3, 2000.

Delva says the punishment of people accused of killing journalists is something he’s never seen before in Haiti and that conditions for journalists are as good as they’ve ever been in his 24 years of reporting.

Haiti’s rank on the annual World Press Freedom Index has improved every year since 2004 when it was ranked 125th.

The rankings are based on questionnaires sent to freedom of expression organizations in countries throughout the world.

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