By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – An outspoken Haitian priest jailed on murder allegations but considered a prisoner of conscience by a human rights group is suffering from leukemia, a Haitian medical examination has found.
The confirmation that popular Roman Catholic priest Gerard Jean-Juste is seriously ill is likely to increase pressure on Haiti’s interim government to release him from prison, where he has been held for more than six months.
Jean-Juste is widely viewed as the natural successor to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted by an armed revolt in February 2004.
His supporters believe Jean-Juste was jailed to prevent him from running — and likely winning — a presidential election originally scheduled for November but now due to take place on February 7 after repeated delays caused by incompetence, violence and logistical problems.
U.S. doctors reported after visiting the parish priest over Christmas that he had leukemia. But the interim government resisted calls for him to be given a formal medical examination until Tuesday, when he was suddenly taken by authorities to a hospital.
A report sent to the interim authorities by Dr. Jacques Boncy, who conducted Tuesday’s medical examination, confirmed he has leukemia, medical sources said on Thursday.
Jean-Juste’s lawyer, Mario Joseph, said he had also seen Boncy’s report.
“We have received the report and it is a serious and urgent matter,” Joseph told Reuters.
“We have attached a copy of the doctor’s report to a correspondence we sent to the investigative judge to request bail so that our client may receive the medical treatment he urgently needs.”
Jean-Juste was arrested on July 21 last year on allegations he was involved in the kidnapping and the killing one week earlier of a well-known Haitian journalist, Jacques Roche.
Authorities have since brought additional accusations of weapons violations.
The Roman Catholic priest has denied the charges and said he was in Miami at the time of the murder. Amnesty International calls him a prisoner of conscience jailed for expressing views that the interim authorities do not like. Members of the U.S. Congress have also called for his release.