Persecuted Haitian Photojournalist Speaks Out: Jean Ristil & Cité Soleil

Jean Ristil *

At 5pm on September 9, 2005 Haitian Photo-Journalist Jean Ristil, working for the Associated Press, and Pacifica Radio journalist Kevin Pina were arrested, carried away by masked SWAT members of the Police Nationale d’Haiti (PNH). The police claimed they were searching for "weapons" at the church where 600 to 800 children are fed daily, but the journalists felt it likely that they were planting weapons in an attempt to frame the church’s outspoken liberation theologian Father Jean-Juste.  

Over the days following their arrest, activists and journalists mobilized for the freedom of the two journalists who had been placed into a tiny jail cell with seven other inmates. Organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) spoke out against the arrest, while the Associated Press reported, "In a letter to Haiti’s justice minister on Monday, the head of the Association of Haitian Journalists questioned the judge’s decision to arrest Pina and Ristil." On September 12, 2005 Ristil and Pina were released. Following his release Ristil continued on with his work photographing and documenting the repression and violence against his community in Cité Soleil while continuing to work with children in his community. In November of the same year he would be arrested again, this time undergoing torture at the hands of the interim government’s police. Ristil is one of the few, possibly the only, photojournalist to live and work within Cité Soleil on a daily basis.

Your illegal arrest by the PNH in 2005 made international news. Tell us about what happened?

Photos of torture by Jean RistilI was first arrested on September 9, 2005 and held until September 12, 2005. The second time, I was arrested in November of 2005 upon the order of the Central Headquarters of the Judicial Police (DCPJ). Well I was arrested twice, both for filming and photographing the results of a MINUSTAH massacre and for filming the PNH attempting to plant weapons at the church of Father Jean-Juste. The first time I was arrested after I filmed them arresting another journalist, Kevin Pina. But following my release the PNH and MINUSTAH came after me. After they knew I had footage and photographs from Cité Soleil showing the results of their operations they came after me. They wanted no one to see the images of the people they had murdered and killed in Cite Soleil. When I was arrested again in November PNH officers threw me on the ground after picking me up by my arms handcuffed behind Photos of torture by Jean Ristilmy back. They grabbed me from the street and threw me in a car. They destroyed my motorcycle with a gun burst of six shots and they broke all my cell phones. Today I cannot afford to fix my motorcycle. I received all these problems for the images I took of the 2005 July 6th massacre by MINUSTAH. At one point they offered me money so I would not release them to the public. They made a big effort to stop the release of these photos. They tortured and interrogated me.

Tell us about your home, Cité Soleil.

Photos of torture by Jean RistilRistil: These people living in Cité Soleil had jobs before the coup; some had 5 or 6 kids who they could pay for school. Each person with a job helped benefit 20 or 30 people around him. But after the coup these people were cut off, they had no more money. No money for his home, no money for his family. So when he could not pay for his family to live, he had another idea. Before these people would get 5,000 gourdes a month they could take care of their family, mother, father, kids. This is the reason of the Chimeres. The society is corrupt because the state and church are failures they do nothing for the people. A MINUSTAH tank can cost several million dollars. If you did social work with this money you could change the situation of Cité Soleil. When Aristide was President it was better because people were working and all those who were not working still had help. They had potable water. People had access to food. Many handicapped people got food and a fund each month. Now things are horrible. For 100 gourdes people get sexual relations. People have no money making it difficult to live. They destroyed our lives. Many children have no fathers now.

Dread Wilme said before he died that Labanyè, another of the gang leader’s in Cité Soleil, "was doing the work of Andy Apaid and Charles Henri Baker" coming out to shoot at demonstrations, etc.

by Jean RistilJean Ristil: Yes. The American soldiers when they first arrived after the coup tried to bring about disarmament. They took away weapons from many people in Cité Soleil. But after this had happened the bourgeois sector immediately began financing several groups in Cité Soleil, such as Labanye and his partisans. On September 30, 2004 Labanye killed several peaceful Lavalas demonstrators. His partisans and the PNH would attack peaceful demonstrations. For all his crimes Labanye was given a police uniform. This sector made the violence. They gave big guns to Labanye’s partisans who went on to destroy many homes. They targeted Lavalas organizing as well, shooting up local centers. Labanye worked for the bourgeoisie he did many crimes against the population in Cité Soleil. So the population killed him. The people of Cité Soleil now got a break from the repression by Jean Ristilof Labanye. Gerald Latortue answered that he was very sorry for the death of Labanye, Latortue saw Labanye as a good militant in Cité Soleil. I have the courage to say that the United States and Canadian embassies are accomplices in the verbal violence done to Cité Soleil they have provided exile to Labanye’s partisans. After Labanye’s death the PNH and MINUSTAH reacted with violence. This eventually transpired in the death of Dread Wilme. MINUSTAH looked for Dread Wilme’s body but they could not find it. His body will always be in Cité Soleil . He died but his memory lives on in Cité Soleil as a good memory.

How can peace be achieved?

by Jean RistilFirst of all Preval has to end the mandate on wanted people in Cité Soleil. They could not go to recent presentations for peace that were made. Money should be spent on social work instead of MINUSTAH assaults upon Cité Soleil. The community needs back the jobs and programs that aided it. MINUSTAH must stop its assaults into Cité Soleil.


*Photo of Jean Ristil taken by Jeb Sprague. All other photos taken by Jean Ristil

For more on Jean Ristil see or visit Jeb Sprague’s blog at

A website for Jean Ristil is currently under construction.