Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Other Occupation: Haiti Under the Guns

Latest Update on the case of Pere Jean-Juste
Voices in the Wilderness
July 22, 2005

Latest Update on the case of Pere Jean-Juste, now incarcerated in the National Penitentiary, in Haiti

Several hours after receiving Bill Quigley’s latest update, below, word arrived that Haitian human rights advocate Fr. Jean-Juste is in a one-person cell at the National Penitentiary in Haiti. Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek’s office has asked for a U.S. civilian officer to be at the site where Fr. Jean-Juste is jailed to make sure that his civil rights are not violated. Please continue building pressure to demand protection for Fr. Jean Juste.

Long time friend and lawyer for Voices in the Wilderness, Bill Quigley, sends us this urgent message asking you to call your Senators and Representatives (Find contact information for your congress persons) and ask them to do all they can to protect Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste. There are more suggested actions given at the end of this update.

Notes from Bill Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law.
A half an hour ago, over a dozen masked police officers with machine guns forced a handcuffed Fr. Jean-Juste into a police van and sped away.

As he was being put into the police wagon he yelled to the officers and the onlookers “Where is the justice in Haiti? I am a priest. Why do you treat people like this? Vive Aristide!”

No one yet knows where Fr. Jean-Juste has been taken. No written charges have been made against him.

Earlier this afternoon Fr. Jean-Juste was still in Petionville jail, where he shared a single toilet with over 40 prisoners. There were no beds and no running water.

He then had a quick hearing with a justice of the peace, who refused to wait until Mario Joseph, his Haitian lawyer, could be present. No written charges were shared - again questions were: What party do you belong to? Can you explain your presence at the funeral of Jacques Roche? Do you know why the bandits killed him? Do you visit the poor neighborhood of Bel-Air frequently?

At the conclusion of the meeting with the justice of the peace, we took a harrowing ride with police bearing machine guns downtown to the prosecutor’s office where no questions were asked and no conversation was held. Papers were signed and Fr. Jean-Juste was placed in handcuffs, as described above, and taken away.

Mario Joseph (of the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti) and I will continue to try to find out where Fr. Jean-Juste is over the weekend and will report what we know.
The only thing we know for certain is the answer to Fr. Jean-Juste’s cry to the soldiers, “Where is justice in Haiti?” If there is to be justice in Haiti, it rests with those who are willing to struggle for human rights for all.

Freedom is coming, but only if we keep up the pressure.

Haitian Priest Assaulted by Mob at Funeral and Arrested for Murder
By Bill Quigley, in Port au Prince.

[Bill is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and is co-counsel with Mario Joseph and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Mario Joseph can be reached at 509.554.4284. Bill can be reached in Haiti at 509.401.4822 and in U.S. at 504.861.2709.
Please note: Bill Quigley urges all who receive this letter to contact their elected representatives and urge them to assure protection for Fr. Jean-Juste.]

On Thursday July 21, 2005, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste went to St. Pierre’s Catholic Church to be one of the priests participating in the funeral of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche. Fr. Jean-Juste is a cousin of the Roche family and members of the Roche family protected him from a mob earlier in his life. He went to express spiritual comfort and reconciliation to the family.
The tragic kidnapping and death of Jacques Roche has been taken up as a cause by those opposed to the Lavalas party. Jacques Roche was identified as a supporter of the people calling themselves the group of 184, who overthrew by force the democratically elected government of President Aristide, the leader of the Lavalas party, in February 2004.

Opponents of Aristide say that, because the body of Jacques Roche was found in a poor neighborhood, he was executed by the Lavalas party, which is very strong in the poorest neighborhoods. For those of us in the US, this is much like blaming John Kerry for inner city deaths because most of the people in the inner city vote democratic.

Fr. Jean-Juste went to the funeral expressly to pay his respects to the family and express his open remorse and opposition to any killing of anyone, no matter their political affiliation.
Jacques Roche’s coffin was in the chapel next to the sacristy and main area of the church. At 10 o’clock the bishop and about seven priests robed in white with purple stoles or sashes paraded out of the sacristy of the church to the chapel next to the main area of the church to say blessings over the coffin of Jacques Roche.

When Fr. Jean-Juste walked out, people started yelling at him in the chapel. They called him “assassin” and “criminal” and yelled out to “arrest and kill the rat.”

Fr. Jean-Juste has been publicly accused in the last several days of “a plot against the security of the state,” of smuggling money and guns into the country, and of being behind all the kidnappings. All clearly false charges but widely reported by unfriendly press.

People knew Fr. Jean-Juste was coming to the funeral because that was printed on the front page of a conservative paper the day before.

As the well-dressed people continued yelling at Fr. Jean-Juste, the prayer service nearly turned into a riot. The other priests turned to leave and a well-dressed crowd of screaming people surrounded him.

I went out to be by his side. Some plainclothes security people and a few priests surrounded us and helped push us through the increasingly hostile crowd back into the church sacristy.
The other priests then persuaded Fr. Jean-Juste not to continue in the funeral service. So we stood aside as the priests and the funeral crowd filed past us into the main church.

Well-dressed men and women continued to scream and threaten Fr. Gerry as they moved by us into the church. Then a crowd of 15 or 20 or more young men, not dressed at all for the funeral came into the sacristy and the mood turned uglier and more menacing.

At that point, the security forces melted away.

The young men continued the screaming started by the well-dressed people and then started pushing and hitting Pere Jean-Juste. At that point a young woman came out of the funeral crowd and embraced Fr. Jean-Juste, shielding him with her body from the blows and the increasingly loud and angry young men. She started praying loudly and saying “mon pere, mon pere.”

A man in a suit, who identified himself as head of security for the funeral, rushed back in from the church area - only a few feet away and in plain view -and told Fr. Gerry these people were going to kill him there in the sacristy unless he fled. Fr. Jean-Juste knelt to pray and the woman and I knelt with him in the middle of the growing crowd.

At that point people started slapping Fr. Jean-Juste on the head and face and spitting on him and the other two of us. Something then hit Fr. Jean-Juste in the head. Someone punched him in the eye. We stood up and a few UN CIVPOL officers showed up to help us leave the sacristy of the church. As we tried to get to the stairs people continued pushing and screaming and shouting threats. They continued to call out “assassin,” “criminal,” and “kill the rat.” The crowd now overwhelmed the police. More people spit on us and hit Fr. Gerry, even in the face, while others were grabbing his church vestments trying to drag him off the church steps.

The CIVPOL were trying to hold back the crowd but were still well outnumbered and were not able to halt the mob. We moved up the steps into a narrow dark corridor while the crowd pushed and shoved and spit and hit. We then retreated into a smaller corridor and finally to a dead end that contained two small concrete toilet stalls.

The three of us were pushed into the stalls as the crowd banged on the walls and doors of the stalls and continued screaming. The woman held the door closed and prayed loudly as the people outside roared and the CIVPOL called for reinforcements.

After a few minutes, reinforcements arrived and the hallway was finally cleared of all but us and the authorities. A man in a suit identifying himself as secretary for security for Haiti told us that he was going to have to arrest Fr. Jean-Juste because public clamor had identified him as the assassin of journalist Jacques Roche. The police would bring him to the police station for his own safety. Fr. Jean-Juste told the man that he was in Florida when the journalist was killed and he wanted to return to St. Claire’s, his parish. The man left escorting out the woman who helped us.
In a few minutes, CIVPOL police, including troops from Jordan, surrounded Fr. Jean-Juste and me and ran us out of the church to a police truck. The truck with police with machine guns sped away from the church and took us not to Fr. Gerry’s parish but to the police station in Petionville.

For the next seven or eight hours we were kept in a room while the UN forces and the Haitian forces negotiated about what to do. Fr. Gerry read his prayer book while we waited. We were told informally that the UN wanted to escort Fr. Jean-Juste back to his parish but the Haitian government was insisting that he be arrested.

The attackers were allowed to go free and not arrested, but they wanted to arrest the victim!

Fr. Gerry told me “This is all a part of the death sentence called down upon me on the radio in Miami. The searches at the airport, the visits to the police stations, the mandate to appear before a criminal judge yesterday, and now this. It is all part of the effort to silence my voice for democracy.”

At about 6pm, several Haitian officers came into our room and ordered Fr. Gerry and me and Haitian attorney Mario Joseph to come with them.

The officers held out a piece of paper that they said was an official complaint against Fr. Gerry, accusing him of being the assassin of Jacques Roche. The complaint was based on “public clamor” at the funeral identifying him as the murderer. They refused to let Fr. Jean-Juste or the lawyers see this paper. It was their obligation, they said, to investigate this public clamor identifying him as the murderer. If Fr. Jean-Juste chose not to talk with them, they would put him in jail immediately.

Fr. Jean-Juste agreed to the interrogation and it went on for over three hours. He was growing increasingly sore and tired from the beating he took, but was not bleeding externally. When the lawyers argued with the police, Fr. Gerry read his prayer book.

The police already knew that Fr. Jean-Juste had been in Florida at the time of the kidnapping and death of the journalist, because the police had already interviewed him several times in the last few days in connection with the other false allegations against him, but asked him many questions anyway. How many cell phones did he have? What was his exact relation to Jacques Roche? Why had he gone to the funeral? Could he prove he was in Florida? Since he’d been on the news in Florida could he provide a copy of the news tape showing he was in Florida? When Aristide was president was he provided with armed security? What happened to the pistols that his security had? Could he find out and have any pistols returned to the government? Why had he gone to the funeral? Did Lavalas promise Aristide to execute someone from the group of 184 in retaliation for them taking power? When was the last time he’d been in the US? Had the Catholic sisters in Bel-Air been with him when he went to demonstrations there?… and on and on.

After over three hours, the interrogation ended.

With great solemnity the police told Fr. Jean-Juste that he was being charged with participating in the death of Jacques Roche and not returning state property. They said the law ordered that he would be brought before a judge within 48 hours for further decision.

At exactly 10pm, Fr. Gerry handed me his keys and church vestments and was locked into the jail cell at Petionville with many, many others. He was holding a pink plastic rosary, his prayer book and a roll of toilet paper.

He flashed a tired smile and told me: “Now you see what we are up against in Haiti. If they treat me like this, think how they treat the poor people. Tell everyone that with the help of God and everyone else I will keep up the good fight. Everyone else should continue to fight for democracy as well. The truth will come out. I am innocent of all charges. I will be free soon. Freedom for Haiti is coming. The struggle continues.”

As I left him, a very tired Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste was being greeted by all the prisoners in the very crowded jail cell as “mon pere!”

Action: Write or fax UN Special Representative
Juan Gabriel Valdés, urging him to release MINUSTAH’s
prison report immediately, and to resist pressure from
the Haitian police to minimize the number of
casualties presented in that report. Mr. Valdés
speaks English, French and Spanish. His fax number is
(dial 011 first from the US for an international line)
509 244 3512.

Mr. Juan Gabriel Valdés
Special Representative of the Secretary-General
United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti
387, avenue John Brown
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Contact Information:
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley
United States Embassy
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Telephones: 011-509-223-4711, or 222-0200 or 0354
Fax: 011-509-223-1641 or 9038
Email to Dana Banks, Human Rights Officer:

Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher
Embassy of Canada
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Telephone: 011-509- 249-9000
Fax: 011-509-249-9920

Ambassador of France in Haiti, M. Yves GAUDEUL
Embassy of France
51 place des Héros de l’Indépendance - BP 312
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Telephone: 011-509-222-0952
Fax : 011-509-223 5675

Haiti Authorities:
Fax. No. 011-509-245-0474
Me. Henri Dorléans
Ministre de la Justice et de la Sécurité Publique
Ministère de la Justice
19 Avenue Charles Sumner
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

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