Father Jean-Juste Arrested in Port-au-Prince, Held Incommunicado

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Haitian Priest Gerard Jean-Juste, a leader in ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas party, was arrested last week and charged with the assassination of journalist Jaques Roche even though he was in Miami at the time of the murder. Father Jean-Juste is now being held incommunicado. We go to his lawyer, Bill Quigley, who just returned to Louisiana from Port-au-Prince. [includes rush transcript]

Last week we spoke to Father Gerard Jean-Juste from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Father Jean-Juste is a prominent leader in ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas party. We spoke to Father Jean-Juste as he was attending the funeral for Journalist Jacques Roche, cultural editor with the daily Le Matin, who was kidnapped and murdered earlier this month. Hours after we spoke to him, Father Juste was arrested and charged with being the assassination of Jaques Roche even though he was in Miami at the time of the murder.

Father Jean-Juste’s lawyer, Bill Quigley tried to visit him twice but was not allowed to see his client. Father Jean-Juste’s other attorney, Mario Joseph will try to visit him this week.

Bill Quigley reported yesterday on the Haiti Action News website that “Mario and other Haitian lawyers say there is no basis at all in law for the charges against Father Jean-Juste. All think the government will hold him in jail at least until after the scheduled elections in the fall unless international pressure forces them to act otherwise.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to an excerpt of the interview with Father Jean-Juste on Thursday who was talking about why he was attending Jacques Roche’s funeral.

FATHER GERARD JEAN-JUSTE: Right now, today I’m on my way to attend the funeral of Jacques Roche, a prominent journalist who had been kidnapped and killed. And I’m going to show myself because his parents are from my town, and at a certain time, one of his relatives saved my life. I was being attacked by a mob, and then Mrs. Roche came out, saw me, and get me off the gangs and sheltered me at her house. So this is why I feel that I should be there regardless that they keep accusing Lavalas people of participating in the killings.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Father Jean-Juste, speaking to Democracy Now! on Thursday. He was driving with Bill Quigley, his attorney. Bill Quigley just left Haiti yesterday and speaks to us from Louisiana. At the time of our conversation with Father Jean-Juste, Bill Quigley, he said that the police were following him. This was to the funeral. Can you describe what happened when he got there?

BILL QUIGLEY: Yes. Amy, it was a situation that had I not been there I probably would not believe. He rode in the church vestments that all of the rest of the priests wore. And at about 10:00, the priests went out to view the coffin in a small chapel alongside the main church and to say a blessing over the coffin. But as the priests went out there, including the bishop and all the altar boys and girls and that, people started yelling at Father Jean-Juste and calling him an assassin and a murderer and a criminal, and yelling that he should be killed, that he should be arrested and it turned really into just a near riot in the church within seconds of his appearance in the church.

And at that point, the other people — the other priests turned around and walked back into a more private part of the church, but Father Jean-Juste stood there and tried to engage in dialogue with people, but they got increasingly nasty, and I walked out from the church part to be with him, and ultimately we were surrounded by some security forces and were able to get back. But people were just — just had gone crazy about that.

And then the other priests persuaded Father Gerry not to continue in the mass with them because it was too disruptive, so he agreed to do that. But then people came into the area where we were, screaming at him, pointing at him, that he was an assassin, he was a criminal, but then they walked on into church. These were people very well dressed for a funeral.

But then, all of a sudden, the security melted away, and 15, 20, or more young men came in and started screaming and yelling, and then they started throwing things at Father Jean-Juste and slapping him and punching him and grabbing at his vestments and trying to knock him down, twisted his arm, spit on us. And a young woman who was at the funeral came out of the crowd and wrapped herself around Father Jean-Juste as a shield and prayed with him and really very possibly saved his life from this group.

By this time a couple of the U.N. troops came to the scene, because the Haitian police were nowhere to be found, and started to try to help us get out of that part of the church, because as a security man said, 'Look, you have to leave, or they're going to kill you. They’re going to kill you right here.’

And we retreated through various parts of the church with a surging crowd after us and screaming and hitting and pushing and spitting and the like, and ended up trapped in a little, very small bathroom stall, Father Gerry, myself, and this wonderful woman who had come out of the crowd, and people pounding on the door and screaming and that, and finally the police — actually the U.N. troops were able to save us.

But then Father Gerry and I were taken under, you know, in a police guard, in a U.N. guard, under a machine gun guard, to a car and sped off, but then they brought us to the police station and Father Gerry never got out of police custody from then. They held him for maybe six or eight hours at the police station, and then they ultimately came in and told him that they were charging him with the murder of this journalist, and they were going to — they put him in jail, locked him into jail, handcuffed him and put him in this cell of 40 people with no beds and one toilet, and then the following day went before a justice of the peace, and then handcuffed him again, at a harrowing trip through town with machine gun soldiers with helmets all in black, black ski masks and the like.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, we just have ten seconds. So he is now in solitary confinement charged with, well, something similar to what the Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, is charged with, inciting violence?

BILL QUIGLEY: Inciting the violence, and in isolation and cut off from everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Bill Quigley, describing Father Jean-Juste’s imprisonment.

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