Sunday, January 15, 2006


What's At Stake?
Jailed Haitian Priest Diagnosed with Leukemia: Your Support Urgently Needed

Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a human rights activist and Catholic priest from
Haiti, founded the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, Florida in the 1970s,
and served as its Executive Director for more than a decade. During that
time, he worked closely with Human Rights First and others to help
refugees fleeing persecution under the Duvalier regime. He returned to
Haiti in 1991, where he became parish priest at the Sainte Claire Catholic

After an armed rebellion ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on
February 29, 2004, Father Jean-Juste became an outspoken critic of human
rights abuses perpetrated by armed forces with ties to the interim
government, led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue. As a result of his
activism, Father Jean-Juste has endured several arrests and imprisonment
on trumped up charges.

On October 13, 2004 on the heels of an upsurge of violence by armed
supporters of both the interim government and former President Aristide,
Father Jean-Juste was arrested by masked members of the Haitian National
Police while running a soup kitchen at the Sainte Claire Catholic Church
in Port-au-Prince. In an interview with reporters, Interim Prime Minister
Gerard Latortue explained the arrest by saying that Jean-Juste's name had
become "associated with" people suspected of organizing against the

Father Jean-Juste was jailed for almost five weeks before he was brought
before a judge on November 12. The judge dismissed all charges against
the priest and ordered his release, but authorities did not release Father
Jean-Juste for another 17 days. His lawyers credited his eventual release
to pressure by the international community and human rights groups,
including Human Rights First, placed on the Haitian government to treat
Father Jean-Juste with fairness and accord him due process.

In July 2005, Father Jean-Juste again found himself the target of
harassment, arrest, and detention by the interim government of Haiti. On
July 15, Father Jean-Juste was stopped at the airport in Port-au-Prince
upon returning from Miami, Florida. He was taken to Judicial Police
Headquarters and held for questioning for some hours before being released
on condition that he return for further questioning the following Monday.
When Father Jean-Juste complied, he was asked no questions and allowed to

He then received a summons to appear before a judge on July 20 to answer
to the charge of "plotting against state security," a charge which many
political dissidents have faced. The summons stated that the alleged
crime took place on October 18, 2004, when Father Jean-Juste was behind
bars. Father Jean-Juste and his lawyers appeared before the judge as
required and answered a series of questions about his political opinions.
The judge did not issue a decision and allowed Father Jean-Juste to return
to his parish.

On July 21, Father Jean-Juste was attacked while serving as one among
seven priests to proffer blessings at the funeral of his cousin, Haitian
journalist Jacques Roche, who was killed while Jean-Juste was traveling in
Miami. When he emerged among the seven priests gathered to bless the
coffin, funeral attendees began yelling "assasin," "criminal," and "arrest
and kill the rat." The crowd physically attacked Father Jean-Juste,
punching him and spitting on him. Since Roche has been identified as a
supporter of those who overthrew the government of former President
Aristide, some have blamed his death on members of former President
Aristide's political party, Lavalas, of which Father Jean-Juste is a
supporter. After UN peacekeepers were able to disperse the crowd, police
indicated they would take Father Jean-Juste to the police station for his
own safety.

Father Jean-Juste waited at the police station with his lawyers for
approximately eight hours while the UN and Haitian police discussed
whether to release him. Finally, several Haitian officers produced a
piece of paper they claimed was an official complaint against Father Jean-
Juste accusing him of assassinating Jacques Roche. The complaint was
based on "public clamor" at the funeral accusing him of murdering Roche.
It was their obligation, they said, to investigate this public clamor
identifying him as the murderer. He was locked into a jail cell with 40
other people and no beds, no running water, and just one toilet.

On Friday, July 22, after a brief meeting with a justice of the peace,
over a dozen masked police officers with machine guns forced a handcuffed
Father Jean-Juste into a police van and sped away to an undisclosed
location. It was later learned that Father Jean-Juste is being held in
solitary confinement at the Haitian National Penitentiary. Initially, he
had difficulty gaining access to his lawyers and is apparently facing new
charges: "public denunciation" and "inciting to violence." The former
prime minister of Haiti, Yvon Neptune, who has been in prison for almost
two years without trial, is also imprisoned under the charge of "inciting
to violence." Some speculate that Father Jean-Juste is likely to remain
in prison until after elections take place in 2006.

While in prison, Father Jean-Juste has been suffering from health
problems. He was examined by U.S. doctor John Carroll in early December,
who detected swellings in Father Jean-Juste's throat and underarms. After
finding an abnormally low white blood cell count, Dr. Carroll warned that
Father Jean-Juste may have a serious - and possibly cancerous -
condition. Father Jean-Juste then received a visit from Dr. Paul Farmer,
a Harvard professor and expert in infectious diseases. Dr. Farmer took a
sample of Father Jean-Juste's blood to a laboratory in Miami and confirmed
that the priest has leukemia. Haitian government officials claim that
they have run their own tests, and that Father Jean-Juste is in fine

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