Haiti journalists Kevin Pina and Jean Ristil arrested by masked police
Heavily armed and masked SWAT members of The Police Nationale d'Haiti (PNH) had arrived at Rev. Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste's church to serve a search warrant today with a juge d'instruction and juge de paix. The PNH were ostensibly "searching for weapons" at the church where 600 - 800 children are fed. Many children were present when the SWAT police began destroying the rectory as they were "terrorizing the parishioners" with their search. Pina and Restil had arrived separately after they were called by members of St. Claire's.
Kevin Pina began questioning the officials of the coup government as to why they were destroying the church property and was arrested. "You're nothing but a troublemaker! Your friends in California are always causing us trouble ..." claimed the officials as they put Pina under arrest. Reporter Jean Ristil was present during this and was reporting the scene to Marguerite Laurent when he said that he couldn't talk anymore and was also arrested.
Concerned friends and colleagues of the two reporters managed to track them to where they are being held in the police lockup at Delmas 33 in Port-au-Prince. Two U.S.reporters, a U.S.based human rights observer, a U.S.nun and two Haitian observers went to the holding facility to attempt to clarify the reasons for the arrest and to alert the police that their treatment of the two men is being closely monitored.
Pina and Restil are being held in a small cell with approximately 7 other men. Pina was able to give the following description of events:
"We went to cover the PNH search of Fr. Jean-Juste's church for guns. The police were clearly initmidating the boys in the presbytery. I scaled a wall to enter the compound, but a policeman outside said nothing to stop me from doing so, and I would have stopped had he done so. I also have an open invitation from both Fr. Jean-Juste and the priest who has been conducting the feeding program while Jean-Juste is in prison to come to the church as I please.
"When both Jean and I had scaled the wall the judge of instruction supervising the police operation began screaming at me, saying that I was a foreign terrorist and with Lavalas. He told the police to take my camera, which I would not let them do. I told them that before they did anything else I wanted to see a representative of my embassy. They then handcuffed me and put me in the back of a police car. Now the judge claimed I hit him. I have been covering Haiti since 1989 and I have never raised my hands to anyone in authority, and would never do so."
The fact that police were searching Fr. Jean-Juste's church 6 weeks after they arrested him on trumped-up charges, at the same time that the activist priest is widely assumed to be the one pesidential candidate aside from Jean-Bertrand Aristide that can generate mass support suggests an attempt to create further basis for attacks on Jean-Juste. In addition, arresting two independent journalists just days before an announced mass demonstration in Port-au-Prince is a blatant example of press censorship on the part of the U.S.-backed Haitian coup regime.
Even though the "search" may have been considered legal, it was obvious that the PNH weren't expecting to find any weapons. These searches have been served at St. Claire's several times since the US-sponsored Coup d'État of February 29, 2004 with the same charges that security weapons were not returned to the coup government. One search was made when Fr. Jean-Juste was imprisoned for a 40¢ crime for six weeks after his arrest October 16, 2004 when a couple of children who were being fed were shot.
"Kevin Pina, he's that lone voice in the wilderness ..." stated Laurent on KPFA-Berkeley Flashpoints program. Since the USA has been trying to force Haiti to conduct presidential elections this November, pro-democracy activists have put Fr. Jean Juste's name on the ballot as their choice for president even though he has been in solitary confinement since July 21, 2005. The official leaders of Fanmi Lavalas have considered the coup government and this election to be constitutionally illegal and refuse to participate in the sham elections.
Today Pere Jean-Juste stated from his imprisonment that he is "... with the poor and has heard their call ..." It's also reported that his condition is improving and that he's healing from the injuries that he sustained previously when he was taken into "protected custody" by UN troops and imprisoned. There have been rumors recently that Fr. Jean-Juste would be released before the elections as there are no credible charges by the Latortue government against him. It is thought that the stated objective of todays "search" was a pretense, with the real purpose being to fabricate charges to keep him in custody until after the elections.
Fanmi Lavalas is the overwhelming choice of Haiti's citizens, with support estimated at higher than sixty percent of the population. Many Lavalas leaders have been imprisoned, forced into exile or assassinated since the coup d'État. Kevin Pina has been reporting on this situation from the beginning and is one of the subjects of a Haiti Information Project documentary — Haiti: The Untold Story — that was released last month, it focuses on the repressive and murderous role of the UN occupation acting as a proxy for U.S. interests. The documentary contains graphic footage showing victims of the recent Citè Soliel massacres conducted by the UN (MINUSTAH) forces. It is currently being screened internationally.
To download the seven minute trailer for the Haiti Information Project documentary
Haiti: The Untold Story
Haitian Lawyers Leadership - Urgent Action Alert
Demand Release of Kevin Pina and Jean Ristil