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Unknown Gunmen Target Loop Haiti Journalist

Luckson Saint Vil's car is seen with bullet holes piercing the windshield and hood.
Luckson Saint Vil's car is seen with bullet holes piercing the windshield and hood.

Martine Isaac and Wilner Bossou contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince

Luckson Saint Vil, a journalist for the multimedia news outlet, Loop Haiti, was hungry after finishing work around 10 pm on August 6 so he decided to go buy a snack from a street vendor in the seaside town of Leogane, in Haiti's south. Shortly after leaving the food stand to head home, he felt something was not right with his car so he decided to stop on the side of the road to check his tire.

"While I was kneeling on the ground checking my tire, I heard several gunshots," Saint Vil said in an audio message sent to colleagues and friends via WhatsApp.

"My first reaction was to lay flat on my stomach - I didn't care that I might soil my work clothes," he said. "I spent a long while on the ground."

He said a car and a motorcycle drove by while he was on the ground. When he felt it was safe to stand up, Saint Vil rose and inspected the car.

There were 7 bullet holes: one grazed the wheel, two hit the driver's side front window, another hit the hood and three others hit the right side of the car.

"I was shocked, I couldn't believe I had been shot at," the journalist said.

Saint Vil considered calling local authorities to report the incident, but he thought perhaps it wasn't safe to remain in that location, so he drove off in case whoever had targeted him was still lurking. He decided to head home to Gressiers, a 10-15 minute drive from Leogane.

"When I got home, I took photos of the car and sent them to Loop and to some journalist friends," he said. "I also called a [parliament] deputy and the local mayor who told me I should have stayed where the incident happened because driving off probably destroyed some of the evidence."

Saint Vil said a police official came to meet him and took him to the police station where he gave an official statement, filled out some forms, and left his car and keys with them so they could investigate.

Loop Haiti journalist Luckson Saint Vil on the air
Loop Haiti journalist Luckson Saint Vil on the air

"I'm fine," Saint Vil reassured friends in the audio message. " I really don't know what made me decide to get out of the car, but if I hadn't I would have been hit because most of the bullets hit the driver's side of the car."

Searching for reasons as to why he would have been targeted, the journalist theorized maybe it was linked to phone threats he had received after appearing on television shows (Caraibes, TNH, Pacifique) to discuss a prize-winning report he had done on the gangs of Cite Soleil, a Port-au-Prince slum.

"I showed the links that exist between gangs, politics and the business sector. So after I appeared on those shows, I received several phone calls from a number I didn't recognize. The person said 'so you think you're a big journalist, accusing the presidency of being linked to gangs?'" he recalls.

"I took it for what it was," Saint Vil says, "and I followed procedure, filed a complaint with the police and they told me they would follow up with me."

The journalist says police officials advised him not to talk about the incident and discouraged him from writing a story about it.

"Over a month later, this happens. Are the two incidents related? I have no idea," he says. "This just proves that wherever you are in the country, you are not safe. No one is safe. This happened during a very tense political climate."

Saint Vil says if it was a targeted attack he considers it to be a threat against press freedom. He thanked the colleagues who rushed to offer support and said he had received calls from as far away as the United States.

"I'm deeply touched," he says.

President Jovenel Moise's Press Secretary, Eddy Jackson Alexis - a career journalist - told VOA the government respects the country's journalists and is determined to uphold the freedom of the press.

Saint Vil is the latest journalist to be targeted by gunmen this year. In June, Radio Sans Fin (RSF) reporter Rospide Petion was shot and killed on his way home after reporting on anti-corruption protests in Port-au-Prince. His killer has not yet been found.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Haiti at 62 on its 2019 World Press Freedom Index - down two points from 2018.

Luckson Saint Vil returned to work on August 12. He says he is still haunted by the attack.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, condemned the attack against Saint Vil on August 13. A message posted on its site says CPJ "urged Haitian authorities to investigate threats against Saint-Vil and identify and prosecute the attackers."

*This story was updated on August 15 at 11:15 am