PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, JULY 9 -- Jean Dominique and his wife, Michelle Montas, are not sleeping at home these nights. They operate Radio Haiti Internationale, one of the country's best known radio stations.

A few days ago, said Dominique, a voice on the phone warned him that he would be attacked and armed men cruised slowly around the station in a private car.

Seventeen months after throwing off the dictatorship of the Duvalier family, this poor and populous nation is again torn by political upheaval and trying to avoid slipping back in its difficult transition to a working democracy.

That transition is being made more difficult by confrontation between Haiti's government and its press, according to local journalists and officials. They blame both sides for the conflict and many believe that hard-line rightist Haitians identified with Duvalier are responsible for shootings and threats against journalists that have aggravated the conflict.

During the past week, soldiers shot two Haitian journalists and fired a fusillade at foreign reporters, killing a bystander. Troops have menaced other journalists at gunpoint. The incidents have prompted diplomatic protests from at least one foreign government.

Besides the now unlimited freedom of expression, little has changed in the lives of most of Haiti's people. Unemployment and poverty remain as severe as during the Duvalier years, but they are now primary topics of public debate and diplomats fear there is a growing gap between the demands of the population and the reality of their lives.

At Radio Haiti Internationale, an imposing fortress-like building set high above the street, Dominique said Haitian journalists feel constantly at risk from the "Macoutistes," the remnants of the disbanded Duvalier secret police, the Ton-Tons Macoutes. "But now," he said of the two weeks of civil upheaval, "is an especially bad time."

The voice on Dominique's phone warned of a repetition of "Nov. 28, 1980." That was the day that police burst into his old radio station, smashed equipment and arrested Montas. Dominique, who was elsewhere, took refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy. He and his wife then spent six years in exile in New York City.

Dominique does not believe the timing of the attack was accidental.

"It came only a few weeks after Jimmy Carter lost the election," he said. Carter, with his emphasis on human rights, had "forced Duvalier to smile with him and say, 'I'm for human rights too.' "

"We had tried to exploit that, to push to report more freely," Dominique said. But on election night, after President Reagan won, "a dozen Macoutes came with their guns and said, 'The cowboys are back in Washington. Human rights is dead.' "

Twenty-five days after deposed president Jean-Claude Duvalier fled into exile, Dominique flew home to rebuild his station. With illiteracy in this country at 80 percent, radio is the most influential medium, and Dominique clearly rejoices in the role he plays.

"We speak to {the people} in their own language -- Creole. When we broadcast an interview with a worker from Le Caye, the people from up north in Cap Haitien hear his experience and it gives them a sense of community."

The radio station's role in helping articulate demands for social and political change also keep up the pressure on a government that has few resources with which to meet rapidly rising popular expectations, according to diplomats and Haitians. But that is only one reason for what Dominique and others see as a disturbing enmity between the local press and government.

"When Duvalier left, the press was unleashed. Journalists here are unskilled, undisciplined and untrained," said a foreign diplomat.

"They do not verify sources, they write anything, they report any rumor," said another.

"The press is aligned against the government," said Pierre Robert Auguste, a senior Information Ministry official who was imprisoned as a journalist under Duvalier. "There is a certain fear of journalists among members of the public administration."

Auguste agreed with diplomats who said government officials, especially military officers, do not feel any need to explain their actions to the public. Such an attitude is widely seen as having contributed to the current crisis, which was sparked last month when the government suddenly decreed that it would directly control coming elections.

"The government cannot recognize the importance of making people understand its actions," said Auguste. "A chasm is growing with the press and relations are becoming very difficult."

Diplomats and local journalists said suspicion of the press at the top of the government and military filters down to bureaucrats and soldiers. Both local and foreign journalists covering the riots and demonstrations here have been attacked.

Last Friday a group of reporters watched and photographed a group of soldiers making an arrest but were ordered away by the troops who slapped away the journalists' press credentials. After the reporters, including a CBS-TV crew, backed across the street, three soldiers aimed submachine guns at them.

"We jumped behind pillars" lining a sidewalk arcade, said J.B. Diederich, a free-lance photographer working for Time magazine. "Just then, they fired, maybe about 30 rounds." A Haitian behind the next pillar looked out and "a bullet hit him between the eyes and blew off the back of his head," Diederich said.