Charges Finally Dropped Against Haitian Priest

Source: Haiti Analysis

The Court of Appeal of Port-au-Prince has announced the dismissal of all remaining charges against Father Gerard Jean-Juste. The Catholic priest is a prominent supporter of Famni Lavalas, the political party of ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Jean-Juste was arrested by the de facto government of Gerard Latortue in July of 2005, after being illegally arrested on a prior occasion in 2004. His imprisonment was such a flagrant act of political repression that Amnesty International designated the priest a "Prisoner of Conscience". After getting a vial of Jean-Juste’s blood past Latortue’s police, Harvard professor and Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer verified that the jailed priest suffered from a form of lymphocytic leukemia that needed immediate treatment.

Under intense international pressure the Latortue regime granted Jean-Juste "provisional freedom" in January of 2006 to to receive treatment for leukemia in the U.S. However, until the court’s announcement of last week, Jean-Juste continued to fend off charges of criminal association and illegal possession of firearms. No evidence had ever been produced to substantiate the allegations.

Father Jean-Juste spoke with HaitiAnalysis by telephone from his parish in Haiti – the Church of Saint Claire – where a boisterous celebration was well underway. "I thank my Lord Jesus" he said "I believed he would not abandon me. I forgive everybody who contributed in my two illegal arrests, which could have cost me my life. I could have died in jail. Now I can continue serving the poor."

The Catholic Church hierarchy in Haiti suspended Jean-Juste for political activity rather than speak out in his support while he was imprisoned. Asked about the suspension, which has outraged his numerous supporters, Jean-Juste expressed confidence that it would be lifted.

"I am not guilty and they will reject their decision to allow me to do my job at the church as Jesus did until the last minute before he was betrayed and arrested".

Parish priests like Jean-Juste, and Jean Bertrand Aristide, formed part of the Ti Legliz (little church) movement. It distinguished itself by opposing the dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier. However the upper echelons of the Church have frequently collaborated with dictatorships in Haiti.

The Vatican recognized the military junta that deposed Aristide in 1991 at a time when world opinion was hostile to the junta. Francois Duvalier was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1959 because he had expelled clergymen from Haiti who had criticized his regime. However, in 1966, Pope Paul IV made an astounding capitulation to the dictator. After intense negotiations the Duvalier’s expulsions remained in effect, Duvalier’s excommunication was annulled, and the dictator was given considerable say over clerical appointments in Haiti.

The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), an affiliate of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), run by lawyer Mario Joseph, took the lead in fighting for Jean Juste. Jean-Juste has been receiving congratulatory emails and phone calls throughout the week from supporters and friends.