Half-Hour for Haiti: Celebrate, then Write

April 19, 2007

Update: Thanks to everyone who wrote and called last week in support of Temporary Protective Status for Haitians in the U.S. Six more legislators have signed on as co-sponsors in the last week, for a total of 30, a small victory. So far no changes in the status of the 101 refugees who made it to shore, or their supporters who are engaged in a hunger strike (for more, see our Haitian Refugees Land in Florida section).

We had a bigger victory on the political prisoner front. After 11 months, the Gonaives Appeals Court released its decision in the La Scierie case last Friday. The Court dismissed the charges against five defendants, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Minister of the Interior Jocelerme Privert. The five were all government employees at the time of the alleged crimes, and the Court found that they could not be tried by ordinary courts, but only through a constitutional process similar to impeachment in the U.S. The decision was 50 handwritten pages long. We hope to have a typed version up soon; we have scans of the last 2 pages, which we will be happy to email.

Some bad news: journalist and activist Edouard Johnson was assassinated in Gonaives on Friday.

Coming Attractions:� On April 21, the Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East (HSNNE) will honor human rights lawyer Bill Quigley and community activist Ninaj Raoulat its Annual Dinner Dance in Bayonne, New Jersey. Bill helped represent political prisoner Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, Ninaj is the Executive Director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees in New York City.

This Week�s Action comes in two parts:� Part I, Celebrate:� The Appeals Court victory is not the victory that Mr. Neptune and his co-defendants deserve, and the prosecutor had recommended, because it does not recognize the absence of evidence against them. But it is a victory, because it ends almost three years of legal struggle, including over two dangerous years in prison for Mr. Neptune and Mr. Privert. Credit is due Mario Joseph and his legal team at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, but the lawyers never would have had their day in court without the persistent pressure applied from outside Haiti. So if you have participated in any of the dozen Half-Hour for Haiti alerts related to the La Scierie case, pat yourself on the back, with one hand.

Part II, Write: With the other hand, write or type. The bad news in the La Scierie appeals decision is that it sends the case back to the trial court for more proceedings against several defendants, including two who are in prison, former legislator Amanus Maette (arrested March 2005) and Hora Jean-Baptiste (arrested August 2005). The court, after considering for 11 months, concluded that it did not have enough information to determine whether there was enough information to send the defendants to trial.

This latest delay, stacked on top of all the other delays, is outrageous. The courts have had three years to investigate the case, and if it they cannot come up with evidence to justify a trial in that period, the case should be abandoned. Although the Executive Branch should not improperly interfere with the judiciary, it does have power to urge the immediate provisional release of the incarcerated defendants, and the prompt dismissal of the outstanding charges.

Please write to President Pr�val urging him to take every possible step to stop the persecution of the La Scierie defendants. A sample letter is at the bottom, feel free to customize it. You may send yours directly to President Pr�val by regular mail, or to us by fax: (206) 350-7986 (a U.S. number) or email: avokahaiti@aol.com, and we will ensure that it is delivered.

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Son Excellence Ren� Pr�val
Pr�sident de la R�publique d� Ha�ti
Palais National
Port-au-Prince, Ha�ti

Your Excellency:

I am writing to urge you to take every possible step to end the persecution against the defendants in the La Scierie case, which has now gone on for over three years. The April 13 Appeals Court decision dismissing the charges against five defendants was a step in the right direction, and I thank you for all that you and your government did to make that possible. But more needs to be done.

The continued persecution against the remaining La Scierie defendants, including Amanus Maette, now imprisoned for over three years, and Hora Jean-Baptiste, imprisoned since 2005, is unjustified and unacceptable. If the courts have not found evidence justifying a trial in three years of investigating, they should dismiss the case.� The courts have repeatedly violated the defendants� rights guaranteed under Haiti�s Constitution and laws and international human rights laws, including procedural rights and the right to be free from unjustified pre-trial detention. The Appeals Court decision is just the most recent example- Haitian law entitled Mr. Maette to a decision on his case within a month of his appeal, which was filed in October 2005, so it was 17 months late. Furthermore, the court did not even rule on Mr. Maette�s request for pre-trial release (main lev�e). For defendant Wantales Lormejuste, the decision is not only too little, it is too late- he died in prison in January, never seeing his day in court.

Please stop this persecution by encouraging and assisting your governments� prosecutors to immediately petition the courts to grant main lev�e for Mr. Jean-Baptiste and Mr. Maette; and by conveying to the Courts, by every appropriate means, the Executive Branch�s determination that the case against the La Scierie defendants should be dismissed.

Sincerely,