Press shocked by revelations of plan to kill Trinidadian investigative journalist
On 7 May 2014, Bassant received a call from “a very reliable underworld source” telling him that criminal entities wanted to harm him, reports the International Press Institute (IPI). The journalist shared this information in a video that was broadcast by the station he works for, CCN TV6, on 22 May. Bassant said he was told that criminals were upset by recent stories he had reported on and that he was advised to get 24-hour security because the threat to his safety was imminent. Local media outlet Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday reports that Bassant had been reporting on the recent murder of a high-profile Trinidadian lawyer, Dana Seetahal, who was killed on 3 May.
After meeting with another source who said that someone had ordered a hit on the journalist for $20,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (approx. US$ 3100), Bassant ultimately chose to leave Trinidad to escape the unsafe conditions. “This entire situation has me angry that journalists, who work on behalf of the people, can be threatened like this,” he said. Trinidad and Tobago has a relatively high level of press freedom, so incidents like this are rare. The country was listed at number 43 out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
After the news of the threats was made public, Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams commented on Bassant's work, saying that the journalist had made irresponsible statements in his reports and “some of that…may have triggered the issue of a threat being made against Mr Mark Bassant.” Outrage at Williams' comments has triggered a heated debate in the country, with some people calling for his resignation. The Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute said, “A death threat cannot be excused or justified under any circumstances”.
On 27 May in a television interview, Wesley Gibbings, the ACM General Secretary, stressed that the focus of the case should now be on the status of police investigations into the threats against Bassant, and he asked wider civil society to endorse a call for police to expedite the investigation process.
IPI's statement said that the threats against Bassant “have highlighted the dangers that journalists face when attempting to reveal information that is in the public interest, even in a country like Trinidad and Tobago, where this form of harassment is unusual”.
Mark Bassant is expected to remain outside of Trinidad for the time being.
What other IFEX members are saying
International Press Institute