[News] Haitian Political Prisoner, Jean-Juste Released

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Tue Nov 30 08:35:48 EST 2004

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
P.O. Box 745, Joseph, OR 97846
(541) 432-0597, www.ijdh.org, info at ijdh.org


November 29, 2004

Today,  November 29, 2004, Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, the pastor of Sainte 
Claire Catholic Church in Delmas, Haiti, was released after almost seven 
weeks of illegal detention.  The release follows a sustained campaign of 
international support for Fr. Jean-Juste by prominent religious figures, 
lawyers, grassroots groups and human rights advocates in Haiti and 
throughout the world.  The release shows that collective action for justice 
can succeed, and offers hope for Haiti's other 700 political prisoners.

Fr. Jean-Juste is a prominent activist for peace, justice and the rights of 
immigrants in Haiti and the U.S.  He was arrested without a warrant by 
masked Haitian police on Wednesday, October 13, 2004, while he was feeding 
the hungry children of his parish.  Gérard Latortue, Haiti's interim Prime 
Minister, claimed that there was a warrant, but no warrant was ever 
produced, nor was any evidence linking Fr. Jean-Juste to any 
crime.  Prosecutors alleged he was connected to two murders, but did not 
produce the victims' names or any details of their deaths.  The Prime 
Minister and the Minister of Justice alleged that Fr. Jean-Juste was 
involved in financing anti-government violence, but never produced a single 
witness or shred of evidence to support the allegations.

The international outcry over Fr. Jean-Juste's illegal detention forced 
Haiti's interim government to bring him before a judge on November 12.  The 
judge found nothing in the file, and very quickly ordered that the case be 
dismissed and Fr. Jean-Juste be released.  The interim government finally 
honored that order today.  On the way from the Omega prison to the 
Port-au-Prince Archbishop's residence, Fr. Jean-Juste thanked everyone for 
all the solidarity, support and advocacy he received during his imprisonment.

Credit for obtaining the release order should go to Fr. Jean-Juste's legal 
team, Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph of the Institute for Justice and 
Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and William Quigley, Professor of Law at Loyola 
University in New Orleans.  Both worked long hours under difficult and 
dangerous conditions to uphold the rule of law.

But legal skill alone was not enough to free Fr. Jean-Juste, or any of the 
more than 700 political prisoners remain in Haiti's jails (according to the 
Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission), almost all with no more in 
their files than Fr. Jean-Juste had.  The interim government systematically 
denies political prisoners access to the courts, and ignores liberation 
orders for those who manage to appear before judges- former Delegate 
Jacques Mathelier (July 12) and grassroots activist Jean-Marie Samedi 
(November 22), both remain in jail despite valid release orders.

The difference in Fr. Jean-Juste's case was the massive international 
mobilization for justice by dozens of organizations and hundreds of 
individuals who issued statements, made phone calls, sent faxes and wrote 
letters to Haitian, U.S. and UN officials.  Too many people and groups 
contributed to name them all, but they include Rep. Maxine Waters and 30 
other members of the U.S. Congress, Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of 
Port-au-Prince, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Pax Christi USA, the 
Haiti Action Committee, Human Rights First, Amnesty International, the What 
If? Foundation, the Haitian Lawyers' Leadership Network, the Catholic 
Worker, the International Committee to Free Father Jean-Juste, the Let 
Haiti Live Coalition, Fondation 30 Septembre, Veye Yo, the 
Inter-Hemispheric Resources Center and the Haiti Information Project.

Our sources confirmed that the mobilization inundated the Haitian and U.S. 
governments and the UN with faxes, emails and phone calls.  The UN 
responded on November 22,  with Secretary General Kofi Annan's call for the 
release of Haiti's political prisoners.  The Haitian government initially 
responded to the pressure by justifying the arrest in press 
conferences.  As the calls kept coming in, they were forced to defend their 
action in court, where truth prevailed.

The mobilization proved that the Haitian Creole proverb, men anpil, chay pa 
lou, (with many hands, the load is light) still applies, and that we can 
still make a difference through collective advocacy, in Haiti, in the U.S., 
and in the international arena.

We need to apply theses lessons next to the hundreds of political prisoners 
that Fr. Jean-Juste left behind, most even more vulnerable than he was, as 
they lack his prestige and international contacts.  Many have been tortured 
and deprived of healthcare and adequate food, some have completely 
disappeared.  As Fr. Jean-Juste said this evening: "I hope that my freedom 
will be the first step to freedom for the many political prisoners still in 
Haitian jails.  We need to keep the pressure on!"

IJDH, along with the other organizations that fought for Fr. Jean-Juste's 
freedom, will soon initiate similar campaigns for other political 
prisoners.  Please take a few minutes to act on their behalf, so that they 
may taste the same freedom that we enjoy.  We will send out action alerts 
in the days ahead, or you may check for information at www.ijdh.org, 
www.lethaitilive.org, www.haitiaction.net.  If you are not on the IJDH 
mailing list and would like to be, please send your contact information to 
info at ijdh.org.


Brian Concannon Jr.
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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