Political Prisoner Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste Released.

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@ijdh.org.


Brian Concannon Jr.
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

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small logoThis document has been published on 06Dec04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights.