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Haiti | International

Father Jean-Juste Held Since July 21st on Bogus Charges
by Mahtin
Tuesday Jul 26th, 2005 11:49 PM
On July 25th, Amnesty International declared Catholic priest Gérard Jean-Juste a prisoner of conscience. He is being held in isolation in the Haitian National Penitentiary, and has been in isolation since late on July 21st.
On July 25th, Amnesty International declared Catholic priest Gérard Jean-Juste a prisoner of conscience. He is being held in isolation in the Haitian National Penitentiary.

The below report is based largely on Bill Quigley's report of his experiences on July 21st
Father Gerard Jean-Juste was present at the funeral of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche on July 21st. Roche had been kidnapped while he was driving in Port-au-Prince, and shot to death five days later. Opponents of Aristide have said that because Roche's body was found in a poor neighborhood, he was executed by the Lavalas party. Hundreds of people attended the funeral. 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. At 10am, the bishop and several priests paraded to the main area of the church to say blessings over the coffin of Jacques Roche. When Fr. Jean-Juste walked out, some well-dressed people started yelling at him. They called him "assassin" and "criminal" and yelled out to "arrest and kill the rat."

As people continued to yell at Father Jean-Juste, the service nearly turned into a riot. The priests exited, and some young men who had not been at the funeral went inside. The young men continued the screaming and then started pushing and hitting Jean-Juste. A man warned Jean-Juste that the crowd intended to kill him, and as he knelt to pray, people started to hit him on the head and spit on him and his companions. Verbal and physical attacks continued as they were escorted out of the chapel by UN officers. They were led into a restroom, and the UN CIVPOL called for reinforcements to clear the crowd. A man in a suit identified himself as secretary for security for Haiti and told the detainees that he was going to have to arrest Fr. Jean-Juste. He said that public clamor had identified the priest as the Roche's assassin, and that the police would bring him to the police station for his own safety. Fr. Jean-Juste told the man that he had been in Florida when the journalist was killed, and that he wanted to return to St. Claire's, his parish. Father Jean-Juste and Bill Quigley (co-counsel with Mario Joseph and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) were driven to a police station.

When they arrived at the police station, the officers told him that they had an official complaint (which was based on "public clamor" at the funeral) that accused Jean-Juste of being the assassin of Jacques Roche. After waiting some seven hours, Jean-Juste was then interrogated for several more hours. The police told Fr. Jean-Juste that he was being charged with participating in the death of Roche and not returning state property. At 10pm, Jean-Juste was put into a jail cell with rosary beads, his prayer book, and a roll of toilet paper. Bill Quigley was then allowed to leave, and has not been allowed to visit with him since.

People who support freedom and democracy in Haiti are being asked to contact the UN and Haitian dignitaries.to ask them to release MINUSTAH's prison report immediately, and to resist pressure from the Haitian police to minimize the number of casualties. People are also encouraged to demand Father Jean-Juste's release. Read more about contact info and talking points | Info about more people to contact | 7/25 Update from Bill Quigley

Look for updates on the Haiti Action Website, Ben Terrall's Haiti Update, and Flashpoints