Police abuse video sparks fury amid Haiti’s election crisis
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A video showing two people being abused by police officers in Haiti has sparked fury in the country, which is already caught up in an ever-worsening electoral crisis. In the video, officers force one of the victims to pull down his trousers and count the number of times they whip him.
The Caribbean island nation of Haiti is currently embroiled in an election crisis. The second round of the presidential elections, initially planned for Sunday, January 24, were cancelled due to security concerns after violent protests swept the country. Demonstrators took to the streets to denounce alleged irregularities in the first round. They accuse the current president, Michel Martelly, of having manipulated the numbers and staging “an electoral coup”.
The footage of several Haitian police officers abusing two young men inflamed an already angry nation. The video showed the police officers stomping on the two victims, who are lying on the ground. While one of them is forced to pull down his trousers an officers say that they are going to give him 50 lashes and that he has to count, without making a mistake. If the man makes a mistake, the lashes wil start all over again.
The earliest posting of this footage dates from January 20, 2016. The YouTube user who posted it describes himself as a member of the opposition. While he writes that the victims in the video are activists who were arrested during a protest calling for the suspension of elections, he doesn’t say when the video was filmed. The “Group of Eight”, a coalition of several opposition groups, quickly released a statement condemning the actions of the police in the video.
But the Haitian Prime Minister Evans Pau said that this footage has nothing to do with the recent protests. In an official statement, he said that the video was shot several weeks earlier in Arcahaie, a town north of the capital city Port-au-Prince. There were violent protests in Arcahaie in September 2015 after the government announced a plan to create a new adjacent town, Arcadins, without consulting parliament or the local residents.
However, when FRANCE 24 spoke to a source close to the Arcahaie police department, his response called into question the official government narrative:
There’s an investigation underway, but for the time being, we can’t say where the footage was taken. The video may indeed be old but those of us at the [Arcahaie] police station saw this video for the first time last week, just like everyone else.
Several details in the video aren’t consistent with the police station in Arcahaie. For example, the door in the video is brown. Here, all the doors are blue.
Contacted by France 24, Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) said they intend to carry out an investigation and find the police officers in the video. They added that this is far from the first time that Haitian police officers have been accused of abusing their power. Just last February, a student who was accused of setting a bus on fire was severely beaten during his arrest.
"Their uniforms show that they are UDMO, a special police force"Our Observer Nelson Deshommes, a blogger who writes for Mondoblog, also expressed doubts about the official version of events.
The footage was definitely taken here in Haiti. They’re wearing the uniforms of the UDMO [Editor’s note: the department tasked with maintaining public order, the “Unité Départementale pour le Maintien de l’Ordre”], a special forces unit within the Haitian national police.
I first saw this video on WhatsApp when it was shared by a group that follows political news. According to several different sources, this video was filmed by police officers.
Screen grab from the video.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this took place during the anti-government protest last week, in Port-au-Prince. Many of the protesters have accused the police of becoming like a pro-government militia.
Screen grab from the video. The police officer is holding a whip.
However, in the Haitian media, many people are wondering if the release of this video isn’t in the best interest of certain players in this electoral crisis. Even if I have a lot of doubts about the government’s official version, it’s important to remember that this video was mostly shared by members of the opposition.
Haiti’s political crisis has worsened since the vote scheduled for January 22 was suspended. Anti-government protesters are now calling for the ouster of the president and the formation of a transition government.
Screen grab from the video. The second victim was forced to pull down his pants.
Contacted by FRANCE 24, Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) said they intend to carry out an investigation and find the police officers in the video. They added that this is far from the first time that Haitian police officers have been accused of abusing their power. Just last February, a student who was accused of setting a bus on fire was severely beaten during his arrest.