I write this morning with great news! Father Jean-Juste has been released from prison! Last night there was a huge celebration at St. Clare's Church in Port-au-Prince. Nannen, one of our Feed My Lambs food program cooks, emailed this morning to tell me of their joy and relief. "We’ve had justice for our priest."
I want to thank all of you who wrote letters and emailed and called and faxed and prayed on his behalf. Your efforts and the efforts of many others around the world are what made the difference. (See press release below from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.)
What a powerful example of what can happen when people join together to raise their voices against injustice. As mentioned in the accompanying email, there is a wonderful Haitian Creole proverb, men anpil, chay pa lou, (with many hands, the load is light). How this applies to our work together over the last seven weeks!
Thank you again for all you've done for Father Jean-Juste and for your continued support for the Haitian people.
Margaret Trost, President
What If? Foundation
1563 Solano Ave., #192
Berkeley, CA 94707
Providing Hope and Opportunity to Impoverished Children in Haiti
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
P.O. Box 745, Joseph, OR 97846
(541) 432-0597, www.ijdh.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
Political Prisoner Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste Released
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 email@example.com.
Brian Concannon Jr.
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
Check out the What If? Foundation Archive at Satya Center.
Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now!
Wednesday, December 1st, 2004
Haitian priest Gerard Jean-Juste was released yesterday after serving seven weeks in prison. His case was eventually dismissed after an international outcry over his arrest. He joins us on the phone from Port-au-Prince. [includes rush transcript]
Bush arrived in Ottawa Tuesday in his first official presidential visit to Canada since taking office four years ago. Thousands of Canadians marched on the Parliament to protest the visit as President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin held a joint press conference. Bush spoke to reporters about the situation in Haiti.
• President Bush, speaking about Haiti at a press conference in Ottawa, November 30, 2004.
In news from Haiti, the Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste was released yesterday after serving seven weeks in prison. Father Jean-Jutse was arrested by masked Haitian police on October 13, 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.
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 ordered that the case be dismissed and Fr. Jean-Juste be released. The interim government finally honored that order yesterday.
• Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, Roman Catholic priest in Haiti who was recently released from prison. He joins us on the line from Port-au-Prince.
AMY GOODMAN: Bush spoke to reporters about the situation in Haiti.
GEORGE W. BUSH: As we seek freedom America and Canada are working to further the spread of democracy in our own hemisphere. In Haiti a leader with United States, France, Chili, and other nations in helping to restore order. Canadian police are standing watch in Haiti at this hour and the Prime Minister just visited the country to further the cause of political reconciliation. I appreciate your briefing on your visit. Prime Minister Martin and I share a vision of a free and democratic western hemisphere in which every nation upholds human dignity.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking to reporters in Ottawa. In news from Haiti, Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste was released yesterday after serving seven weeks in prison. He was arrested by mass Haitian police October 13 while feeding hungry children in his parish. The Haitian interim prime minister backed by the United States claimed there was a warrant but no warrant was ever produced nor was any evidence linking Father Jean-Juste to crime. The international outcry over the illegal detention forced the interim government to bring him before a judge on November 12. The judge ordered the case be dismissed and Father Jean-Juste should be released, and the interim government honored the order yesterday. He joins us on the line from Port-au-Prince. Welcome to Democracy Now!
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Thank you very much. And I’m grateful to all of you because there are so many friends and supporters of human rights. And I’m the first one to be released and I hope we keep the pressure on for others to get freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe how you were arrested, what happened, and what were the reasons they gave for your arrest, Father Jean-Juste?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Ok. It was something between the church and the state, and as you know there is an agreement between the Church of Haiti and the Haitian government dating from 1860. And we are supposed to work together. But the normal procedure to follow is to talk to the bishop or priest and then the bishop has to go to court as a procedure. And about three months ago they observed that when they meet at court recommended to my bishop and the bishop called on me and I went to court and I had to testify. And at this time when I saw them I said the room I’m looking for, they said “What do you want?” They said they want to arrest me and get out. I said this is a free state you are not supposed to arrest me and they said get out and the commander ordered them to arrest me and they took me from one room to another room and handcuffed me but meanwhile while they are trying to handcuff me, some children were running down the stairs going to see what is happening and they had the heavy automatic rifle and the children, they make them lie down on the floor and the children started praying “our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name…” and they said shut your mouth and the children stopped singing. And then they yelled again and made them be quiet and took me away in their car and took me where I was about a week. Then I moved to a third jail and then to a fourth jail. And then I met over 1,500 prisoners at one jail and half of them are political prisoners.
AMY GOODMAN: Father Jean-Juste, General Colin Powell, the Secretary of State is headed to Haiti now. President Bush praised Haiti in his joint news conference with the Canadian leader yesterday in Ottawa. Do you believe that the United States is behind the coup against Aristide that took place in Haiti on February 29?
REV. GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Definitely. There were the three administrations involved in the administration of Wilfort Ferdinand, the administration of the Prime Minister Canada, Paul Martin, and the administration of Jacques Chirac of France. They were all behind the coup but mostly French and the U.S., the Bush administration. They kidnapped an elected president and it was something very bad, who asked the Haitian people and still calling for a return to order. To have peace in Haiti now and have an elected government and support the small group to go after the government and bring the government down so they are members of the United Nations, they are conventional people posed to respect and for government in our world to act like cowboys going after elected officials. It is wrong.