Tuesday, October 26, 2004

 

Human rights groups outraged over arrest of priest

A Catholic priest has been arrested in Haiti, sparking outrage among human rights groups:

Rights groups denounce arrest of Haitian priest
By Michael Kamber The New York Times
Posted October 26 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti · Human rights groups in Haiti and abroad are protesting the detention of the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a well-known Roman Catholic priest and vocal supporter of the former Aristide government who was arrested Oct. 13 at his Port-au-Prince soup kitchen and accused of involvement in a wave of violence that has claimed more than 50 lives in recent weeks. During Jean-Juste's arrest, three children were wounded by police, according to witnesses and investigators.

"We consider the arrest arbitrary; it was purely political," said Morisseau Jean Rony of the Lawyer's Committee for Respect of Individual Liberty in Port-au-Prince. Amnesty International said recently that Jean-Juste "may have been detained solely for his political views and his political affiliation."

The Haitian government has denied that the arrest was politically motivated. Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said that Jean-Juste's name has been "associated with" those behind the recent violence in which 10 police officers have been killed. Other government officials have alleged that Jean-Juste organized meetings of chimères, the armed militias that have battled the police and are calling for the return of Aristide, who was forced into exile earlier this year.

Jean-Juste has been charged with disorderly conduct, which carries a maximum fine of 15 gourdes, or about 40 cents. Supporters say he is being held in indefinite detention. He has not been brought before a judge and no date has been set for his arraignment.

Jean-Juste is the former director of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami and was a prominent spokesman for Haitians during the 1970s and 1980s when he was in exile from the Duvalier and military governments in Haiti. He returned to Haiti in 1991 and became pastor of Ste. Claire's Catholic Church, where masked police officers arrived Oct. 13 during the twice weekly feeding of 600 children.

Witnesses describe scenes of mayhem as the police searched for the priest. Children screamed as officers smashed windows and doors, eventually locating the priest and dragging him from the rectory through a broken window.

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