Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

“Prisoner of Conscience” Faces a Deadly Illness

Miami Herald Editorial, Monday, January 2, 2006


The U.S.-backed transitional government in Haiti should have already released the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste from prison. Now that the Catholic priest has developed leukemia, Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue should waste no time in freeing him. The Rev. Jean-Juste should be allowed to seek medical attention in the United States, and not only for humanitarian reasons. His release also would be a step toward rehabilitating a judicial system tainted by human-rights abuses, corruption and the false imprisonment of political opponents.
Languishing in jail
A prominent priest and vocal supporter of deposed President Jean-Bertand Aristide, the Rev. Jean-Juste hasn’t been shy about criticizing the transitional government in sermons and on radio shows.
Whatever his politics, though, he should have the right to express his opinions in a country that is trying to build a democracy. Yet he is only one of many government critics languishing in Haitian jails, former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune being another. Meanwhile, notorious thugs and violent gangs run free.
Last year the Rev. Jean-Juste spent seven weeks in jail accused of inciting violence, only to be released after a judge found that the charges were baseless. Now he has been jailed for more than five months in connection with a murder in Haiti committed while he was visiting Miami. Amnesty International has designated him a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely because he has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.”
Early this month a U.S. doctor examined Rev. Jean-Juste and said he may have leukemia. Haitian authorities said their doctors found no cancer. Last week, a prominent Harvard Medical School professor visited the Rev. Jean-Juste in prison and took blood samples that were analyzed in Miami. Dr. Paul Farmer, who runs hospitals in Haiti, confirmed that the Rev. Jean-Juste has developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer that could develop into a more-virulent strain.
Facilitate treatment
If he is to have any chance against this disease, the Rev. Jean-Juste needs treatment in the United States, and that treatment needs to start now. He cannot hope to live with a compromised immune system in Haiti’s National Penitentiary, where medical care and hygiene are virtually nonexistent.
U.S. diplomats should use their considerable influence to persuade the Haitian government to release the Rev. Jean-Juste and to facilitate his access to treatment in the United States. Haiti’s fledgling democracy doesn’t need its best known political prisoner to die in jail.

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