Father Gerard Jean-Juste, human rights activist & Catholic Priest from Haiti. He is the founder of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami Florida, and served as its Executive Director for more than a decade, during which he worked closely with Human Rights First and others to help refugees fleeing persecution under the Duvalier regime. He returned to Haiti in 1991, and became parish priest at Sainte Claire Catholic Church.
After an armed rebellion that expelled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on February 29th, 2004, Father Jean-Juste became an outspoken critic of human rights abuses perpetrated by armed forces with ties to the interim government. As a result of his activism, Father Jean-Juste has endured several arrests and imprisonments on trumped up charges.
On October 13th, 2004, Father Jean-Juste was arrested by masked members of the Haitian National Police, while running a soup kitchen at the Saint Claire Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince. His arrest was based on his “association with” people suspected of organizing against the government. Father Jean-Juste was jailed for almost five weeks, before being dismissed of all charges, on November 12th, 2004, yet was held in custody for another 17 days. In Haiti, it is believed that falsified charges followed by arrests and lengthy imprisonments are often used as a method of silencing those who speak out against human rights violations.
On July 15th, 2005 Father Jean-Juste was stopped at the airport in Port-au-Prince upon returning from Miami Florida. He was taken to Judicial Police Headquarters and held for questioning for some hours before being released on condition that he return for further questioning the following Monday. Upon compliance, Father Jean-Juste was allowed to leave.
On July 20, 2005 he was summoned before the judge to answer to the charge of “plotting against state security,” a charge which many political dissidents have faced. The summons stated that the alleged crime took place on October 18, 2004, when Father Jean-Juste was behind bars. Father Jean-Juste and his lawyers appeared before the judge as required and answered a series of questions about his political opinions. The judge did not issue a decision and allowed Father Jean-Juste to return to his parish.
On July 21, 2005, Father Jean-Juste was attacked while serving as one among seven priests to proffer blessings at the funeral of his cousin, Haitian journalist Jacques Roche, who was killed while Jean-Juste was traveling in Miami. When he emerged among the seven priests gathered to bless the coffin, funeral attendees began yelling “assasin,” “criminal,”and “arrest and kill the rat.” The crowd physically attacked Father Jean-Juste, punching him and spitting on him. Since Roche has been identified as a supporter of those who overthrew the government of former President Aristide, some have blamed his death on members of former President Aristide’s political party, Lavalas. After UN peacekeepers were able to disperse the crowd, police indicated they would take Father Jean-Juste to the police station for his own safety.
After approximately eight hours of waiting, several Haitian officers produced a piece of paper they claimed was an official complaint against Father Jean-Juste accusing him of assassinating Jacques Roche. The complaint was based on “public clamor” at the funeral accusing him of murdering Roche. It was their obligation, they said, to investigate this public clamor identifying him as the murderer. He was locked into a jail cell with 40 other people and no beds, no running water, and just one toilet.
On Friday, July 22, 2005, after a brief meeting with a justice of the peace, over a dozen masked police officers with machine guns forced a handcuffed Father Jean-Juste into a police van and sped away to an undisclosed location. It was later learned that Father Jean-Juste is being held in solitary confinement at the Haitian National Penitentiary. He has had difficulty gaining access to his lawyers and is apparently facing new charges: “public denunciation” and “inciting to violence.” The former prime minister of Haiti, Yvon Neptune, who has been in prison for over a year without trial, is also imprisoned under the charge of “inciting to violence.” Some speculate that Father Jean-Juste is likely to remain in prison until after scheduled elections in the fall.
Letter by Morris A. Chochla sent on July 20, 2005
Letter by Morris A. Chochla sent on August 10, 2005
Letter by Morris A. Chochla sent on October 17, 2005