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Haitian priest assaulted, then arrested for murder

by Bill Quigley
SojoMail 7-21-2005

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ñ On July 21, 2005, Father Gerard Jean-Juste went to St. Pierre’s Catholic Church to participate in the funeral of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche. Father Jean-Juste is a cousin of the Roche family; members of the Roche family had once protected him from a mob earlier in his life. Father Jean-Juste went to express spiritual comfort and reconciliation to the family. 

Roche’s tragic kidnapping has been taken up as a cause by those opposed to the Lavalas party. Roche was identified as a supporter of the people calling themselves the group of 184, who by force overthrew the democratically elected government of President Aristide, the leader of the Lavalas party, in February 2004. Aristide’s opponents say that because Roche’s body 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 U.S., this is much like blaming John Kerry for inner-city deaths because most of the people in the inner-city vote Democratic.

Father Jean-Juste went to the funeral to pay his respects to the family and express his open remorse and opposition to the killing of anyone, no matter their political affiliation.

Roche’s coffin was in the chapel next to the sacristy and main area of the church. At 10 a.m. the bishop and about seven priests robed in white with purple stoles paraded out of the sacristy to the chapel to say blessings over Roche’s coffin. When Father Jean-Juste walked out, people started yelling at him. They called him “assassin” and “criminal,” and yelled out to “arrest and kill the rat.” Father Jean-Juste has been publicly accused in the last several days of “a plot against the security of the state,” 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 Father Jean-Juste was coming to the funeral because it had been printed on the front page of a conservative paper the day before.

As people continued yelling at Father 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 Father Jean-Juste not to continue in the funeral service. We stood aside as the priests and the funeral crowd filed past us into the main church.

Men and women continued to scream and threaten Father Gerry as they moved by us into the church. Then a crowd of 15 or 20 young men, not dressed for the funeral, came into the sacristy and the mood turned more menacing. At that point, the security forces melted away. The young men continued screaming and then started pushing and hitting Father Jean-Juste. At that point a young woman emerged from the crowd and embraced Father Jean-Juste, shielding him with her body from the blows and increasingly loud and angry young men. She started praying loudly, saying, “Mon Pere, mon Pere.”

A man who identified himself as head of security for the funeral rushed back in from the church area and told Father Gerry these people were going to kill him there in the sacristy unless he fled. Father 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 Father Jean-Juste on the head and face, and spitting on all of us. Something hit Father Jean-Juste on the head, and someone punched him in the eye. We stood up and a few U.N. CIVPOL [civilian police] officers showed up to help us leave the sacristy. As we tried to get to the stairs, people continued pushing, screaming, and shouting threats. The crowd overwhelmed the police. More people spat on us and hit Father Gerry in the face, while others grabbed his church vestments and tried to drag him off the church steps.

The CIVPOL were trying to hold back the crowd but were still outnumbered and not able to halt the mob. We moved up the steps into a dark narrow corridor while the crowd pushed, shoved, spat, and hit. We 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. 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.

Another man who identified himself as secretary for security for Haiti told us he was going to have to arrest Father Jean-Juste because public clamor had identified him as Roche’s assassin. The police would bring him to the police station for his own safety. Father 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, which included troops from Jordan, surrounded Father Jean-Juste and I and ran us out of the church to a police truck. The truck sped away from the church and took us not to Father Gerry’s parish but to the police station in Petitionville. For the next seven or eight hours we were kept in a room while U.N. and Haitian forces negotiated about what to do. Father Gerry read his prayer book while we waited. We were told informally that the U.N. wanted to escort Father Jean-Juste back to his parish but the Haitian government was insisting that he be arrested.

The attackers were allowed to go free, but they wanted to arrest the victim!

Father 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 6 p.m., several Haitian officers came into our room and ordered Father Gerry, Haitian attorney Mario Joseph, and I to come with them. The officers held out a piece of paper they said was an official complaint against Father Gerry, accusing him of being Roche’s assassin. The complaint was based on “public clamor” at the funeral identifying him as the murderer. They refused to let Father Jean-Juste or his lawyers see this paper. It was their obligation, they said, to investigate this public clamor identifying him as the murderer. If Father Jean-Juste chose not to talk with them, they would put him in jail immediately.

Father Jean-Juste agreed to the interrogation. He was growing increasingly sore and tired from the beating he took, but he was not bleeding externally. When the lawyers argued with the police, Father Gerry read his prayer book.

The police already knew Father Jean-Juste was in Florida at the time of Roche’s kidnapping and death, because they had already interviewed him several times in the last few days in connection with other false allegations against him, but they asked him many questions anyway. How many cell phones did he have? What is his exact relation to Jacques Roche? Why did he go to the funeral? Can he prove he was in Florida? Since he was on the news in Florida can 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 his security had? Could he find out and have any pistols returned to the government? Did Lavalas promise Aristide to execute someone from the group of 184 in retaliation for them taking power? When was the last time he was in the U.S.? Were the Catholic sisters in Bel-Air with you when you got to demonstrations there?

After more than three hours, the interrogation finished. With great solemnity the police told Father Jean-Juste he was being charged with participating in Roche’s death and not returning state property. They said the law ordered that he be brought before a judge within 48 hours for further decision. At 10 p.m., Father Gerry handed me his keys and church vestments and was locked in a jail cell at Petitionville 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 Father Jean-Juste was being greeted by all the prisoners in the very crowded jail cell as “Mon Pere!”

Bill Quigley is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and is co-counsel, with Mario Joseph,
for Father Jean-Juste and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

To take action:
Write or fax U.N. Special Representative Juan Gabriel ValdÈs, urging him to release MINUSTAH’s prison report immediately, and to resist pressure from the Haitian police to minimize the number of casualties. A sample letter is below. Mr. ValdÈs speaks English, French, and Spanish. His fax number is (dial 011 first from the U.S. for an international line) 509-244-3512.

Mr. Jean Gabriel Valdez
Special Representative of the Secretary General
of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti
387, avenue John Brown
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Dear Mr. Gabriel Valdez ,

I urge you to bring to bear the influence of the United Nation s to secure the release of Fr. Gerard Jean Juste from his imprisonment at the Petionville jail. Bill Quigley , a respected law professor at Loyola University of New Orleans, Louisiana, was present at the funeral service when Fr. Jean Juste was arrested on July 21, and his description of that event makes clear that the U.N. officers present felt the actions of the Haitian police were unjustified. Mr. Quigley was told informally by members of the U.N. force that they wanted to escort Fr. Jean Juste back to his parish, but that the Haitian government was insisting that he be arrested ñ with no evidence except a piece of paper accusing him of the assassination of his cousin, the Haitian Journalist Jacques Roche.

I urge you also to release immediately the prison report of the Mission des Nation s Unis pour la stabilisation en Haiti , and to resist pressure from the Haitian police to minimize the number of casualities.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you will take these actions which will help put Haiti on the road to becoming a true and peaceful democracy.

Sincerely,

Claude Boucher
Embassy of Canada
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Dear Ambassador Boucher,

I am writing to ask that you do everything in your power to gain the release of Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste who has been unjustly arrested for murder in Haiti. See below the eye-witness report of Atty. Bill Quigley who was with this priest when he suffered the abuse of an angry mob and then was outrageously arrested by the police for murder on the basis of that abuse! Haiti is in turmoil. Her people suffering terribly. Give them hope by securing the freedom of their hard working advocate of the poor, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste.

Sincerely,

Mr. Juan Gabriel ValdÈs

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
E-mail 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
E-mail:
___________
French Ambassador to Haiti, M. Yves Gaudeul
Embassy of France
51 place des HÈros de l’IndÈpendance - BP 312
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Telephone: 011-509-222-0952
Fax : 011-509-223 5675
___________
Haiti Authorities:
Me. Henri DorlÈans
Ministre de la Justice et de la SÈcuritÈ Publique MinistËre de la Justice
19 Avenue Charles Sumner
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Fax. 011-509-245-0474


Posted by Nuttshell on 08/03 at 03:46 PM in International

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