FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2006
Michael Avery, President, 617-335-5023
Brian Concannon, 541-432-0597
Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director, 212-679-5100, ext. 11
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) welcomes the arrival of Haitian political prisoner Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste in Miami on Sunday. The NLG regrets that it was only his need for treatment of life-threatening leukemia that led to his release. “Fr. Gerry” is well-known as an advocate for human rights in Haiti, and immigrants’ rights in the U.S. The unconstitutional Interim Government of Haiti (IGH) has persecuted Fr. Jean-Juste through illegal arrests and trumped-up charges for over fifteen months, and has imprisoned him without cause for the last six months. Fr. Jean-Juste was diagnosed with leukemia in December, but until Sunday the Haitian authorities had refused him access to treatment.
The NLG joined a long list of human rights advocates in fighting for Fr. Jean-Juste’s release, including the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, forty-five members of the U.S. Congress, Amnesty International, Global Exchange and Human Rights First. NLG members Bill Quigley of Loyola New Orleans Law School and Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti coordinated Fr. Jean-Juste’s legal advocacy and organized the international solidarity effort. Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) represented Fr. Jean-Juste in Haitian courts.
Fr. Jean-Juste was granted a provisional release, which requires him to return to Haiti after the treatment to face the charges still pending against him. On January 19, the IGH announced that it was dismissing the charges for which Fr. Jean-Juste had been twice arrested and imprisoned, for lack of evidence. At the same time the IGH announced that Fr. Jean-Juste would have to stand trial on two new charges, neither of them justified by the law or the facts. Fr. Jean-Juste’s lawyers at the BAI have filed an appeal, asking for the charges to be dismissed. The appeals court can rule on the appeal without Fr. Gerry’s presence, so the case should be dismissed without requiring him to return to court.
NLG President Michael Avery stated: “Allowing Fr. Gerry to receive treatment is a step in the right direction. But the Haitian authorities should dismiss all remaining charges against Fr. Jean-Juste, and free the dozens of political prisoners remaining in Haitian jails. The U.S. government, which is the interim government’s principal patron, should withhold all financial and military assistance until all political prisoners are freed.”
Fr. Jean-Juste said in a letter from prison on Friday before his release: “Understand that I wish you all to extend your support not only to me but to as many political prisoners as possible wherever on planet earth. Probably, you are aware that there are quite a number of political prisoners around the world. Think of them and keep them in your heart…. Let’s keep the momentum on for justice, peace, love, and sharing to prevail all over the world as God wants it.”
Founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States, with more than 200 chapters. The Guild has a long history of representing individuals whose rights have been violated by governments in the U.S. and abroad. The Guild prepared the first two major human rights reports following the February 2004 coup d’etat against Haiti’s elected government. Guild members have represented Haitians seeking political asylum in the U.S., and brought suits in U.S. courts on behalf of victims of past dictatorships.