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Half-Hour for Haiti: Enough is Enough, Release Fr. Gerry Now!
January 24, 2006
This is, unfortunately, another alert about Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, the Haitian priest and political prisoner who is suffering from potentially fatal leukemia.
Even though a judge dismissed the charges that were the basis for his two arrests, he remains in jail, without treatment. But work goes on on other urgent cases too:
1) Last week the Institute for Justice & Democracy (IJDH) and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed a Petition with the Inter-American Commission On Human Rights <http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_iachr_jimmy_charles.htm> against the Interim Haitian Government and Brazil on behalf of Jimmy Charles, a grassroots activist arrested by UN Peacekeepers and executed in Haitian National Police custody on January 13, 2005.
2) On January 19, lawyers throughout the U.S. filed motions to stop all deportations to Haiti <http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_Haitian_Deportations.htm> , because of the country’s disastrous human rights situation.
There has been a lot of activity on Fr. Gerry’s case in the last week. The movement for his liberation continues to grow: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL) wrote to Secretary of State Rice <http://www.ijdh.org/Ros-Lehtinen%20Letter%20Jean-Juste.pdf> asking her to intervene to obtain Fr. Jean-Juste’s release. Human Rights First called on Haiti’s Minister of Justice <http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/pdf/06123-hrd-jean-juste-ltr.pdf> to do the same thing. Prof. Bill Quigley, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and others visited Fr. Jean-Juste in Haiti, and issued an Action Alert <http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_recent_news_1-24-06.htm> . Fr. Gerry wrote a moving Letter from a Haitian Prison <http://www.counterpunch.com/jeanjuste01242006.html> .
Legal Developments: Judge Jean Peres Paul, the judge who had been holding Fr. Gerry since July 21, issued two documents called “ordonnances” on Thursday, January 19. The ordonnances confirmed that there was no basis for the allegations that had been made publicly against Fr. Gerry: that he was involved in the July 2005 kidnapping and murder of Jacques Roche, the killing of two police officers in the fall of 2004, or a plot against the state. Judge Paul dismissed all those charges.
But Judge Paul added two new charges: illegal weapons possession and association de malfaiteurs (criminal conspiracy). These charges are equally without legal or factual foundation. They are based on Fr. Gerry’s employment as a chaplain at the National Palace under Haiti’s ousted constitutional government. His position entitled him to five security guards, who were issued a total of three pistols and two shotguns by the government. The ordonnance charges Fr. Gerry with illegal arms possession, even though there is no evidence that the security guards lack a valid license, that their employment has been terminated, that the National Palace authorities have asked for the guns back or that the guns were involved in any illegal activity. The conspiracy charge does not allege that Fr. Jean-Juste or anyone else planned or engaged in illegal activity; its sole basis is that he refused to tell the judge the names of his five security guards (see the BAI/IJDH legal analysis of the ordonnances).
If the ordonnance stands, Fr. Gerry would have to go to trial before a single judge. He would not have a jury. He could be convicted if the government proves that either a) he did not return the five weapons, or b) that he refused to name his five security guards, both of which he concedes. As the ordonnance is written, the prosecutor would not need to prove that the guns are illegal or that anyone engaged in or planned any illegal activity.
Conviction on the conspiracy charge could mean a sentence of forced labor for 3-15 years, and would cost Fr. Gerry many civil and political rights, including the right to run for almost any elected office. Conviction could also prevent Fr. Gerry from being admitted to the U.S. for cancer treatment.
Fr. Gerry’s lawyer, Mario Joseph of the BAI, appealed the ordonnance because it is legally defective and exposes his client to a great injustice with severe consequences. The Interim Haitian Government (IGH) and U.S. Embassy staff implored Attorney Joseph not to file an appeal, and the IGH is pressuring him to withdraw it. The IGH and U.S. stated that it would be quicker for Fr. Jean-Juste to go to trial, and proposed that the Haitian government could pardon Fr. Jean-Juste if he was convicted.
The Commissaire du gouvernement, or public prosecutor, has the authority and responsibility to protect the health of prison inmates, and prosecutors routinely release prisoners for medical treatment. This responsibility is independent of the procedural status of the case, and is not affected by the appeal of the ordonnance. The prosecutor could release Fr. Gerry for life-saving treatment with less than 30 minutes’ paperwork.. Fr. Gerry, who wants to clear his name in a fair trial and has appeared at court or the police station every time he has been summoned, has promised to return if he is provisionally released.
The IGH has refused to release Fr. Gerry for leukemia treatment, insisting that he must accept its deal of a trial on the defective ordonnance with the hope of a pardon. Accepting this deal would require Fr. Gerry to trust the IGH, which has pursued him for 15 months on charges it now admits were baseless, to fulfill its promise of a pardon. It also requires the IGH to do something relatively complicated and unusual to save his life (trial followed by a pardon), when it refuses to do something simple and routine, (issuing an order for provisional release). Most importantly, by accepting the deal and waiving his appeal rights, Fr. Gerry would be subjecting himself to a serious criminal conviction for engaging in activity that is not illegal.
Help save Fr. Gerry’s Life: Two weeks ago we asked you to write to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Subsequently Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Duddy traveled to Haiti and helped arrange the independent medical examination that confirmed the leukemia diagnosis. Please contact Mr. Shannon again, thank him for his past efforts but urge him to take the steps necessary for Fr. Gerry’s release. A sample letter is below, feel free to modify it. Sec. Shannon’s telephone number is: 1-202-647-5780, his fax is 1-202-647-0791. You can try emailing to shannonta [at] state.gov, but we have not been able to confirm that address.
Via Facsimile No. 1-202-647-0791
Thomas A. Shannon
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Re: Haitian Political Prisoner Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste
Dear Assistant Secretary Shannon:
Thank you for your efforts on behalf of Haitian political prisoner Fr. Jean-Juste. The State Department’s intervention was vital in assuring the January 10 independent medical evaluation that confirmed the leukemia diagnosis. On January 19, the Interim Haitian Government (IGH) released judicial orders confirming that the stated justifications for Father Jean-Juste’s eight months of detention- accusations of the murder of two police officers and journalist Jacques Roche and a plot against state security, were baseless. In fact, the Commissaire du gouvernement,or public prosecutor, concluded in one order that “the investigation does not reveal the participation of Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste in any criminal enterprise” (emphasis supplied).
Unfortunately, those developments have not led to any leukemia treatment. The Commissaire du gouvernement,has refused to exercise his authority to provisionally release Fr. Jean-Juste for medical treatment. This authority is based on his responsibility to assure the health of prisoners, is independent of the case’s procedural status, and is routinely exercised in Haiti. Fr. Jean-Juste, who wants to clear his name in a fair trial and has appeared at court or the police station every time he has been summoned, has promised to return from abroad if he is provisionally released.
The government is now insisting that Fr. Jean-Juste stand trial on two new charges, illegal weapons possession and association de malfaiteurs (criminal conspiracy), before he receives treatment. These charges are without legal or factual foundation, and neither alleges any underlying criminal acts. Fr. Gerry’s lawyer has appealed the charges because they are legally defective and expose his client to a great injustice with severe consequences. Conviction could expose Fr. Gerry to fifteen years hard labor, permanent loss of civil rights, including the right to hold elective office, and potential exclusion from the U.S. and its cancer treatment facilities.
The IGH and U.S. Embassy staff implored Fr. Jean-Juste’s attorney not to file an appeal, and the IGH is pressuring him to withdraw it. The IGH and the U.S. Embassy official stated that it would be quicker for Fr. Jean-Juste to go to trial, and proposed that the Haitian government could pardon Fr. Jean-Juste if he was convicted.
There is no justification for forcing a defendant to stand trial on a defective but serious accusation as a precondition of receiving treatment for a deadly disease. The IGH should process Fr. Jean-Juste’s case promptly, with full respect for his procedural rights. In the meantime, it should release him immediately for treatment.
The new charges and the pressure to drop the appeal are the latest in a 15-month long persistent persecution of Fr. Jean-Juste. In all that time the IGH has yet to present evidence of a single illegal act. It is now time for the United States to take action commensurate to that persecution. I urge you to immediately revoke all U.S. entry visas for IGH officials involved in the persecution, including Commissaire du gouvernement Erman Alce, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, and Minister of Justice Henri D’Orleans. I also urge you to immediately suspend disbursement of all financial and other assistance to the IGH, until Fr. Jean-Juste is released for life-saving treatment.
For more information about the Half-Hour for Haiti Program, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, or human rights in Haiti, see http://www.ijdh.org.
Brian Concannon Jr., Esq.
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
PO Box 745
Joseph, OR 97846
Brian [at] IJDH.ORG