Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Election roundup coverage in Canada and Haiti.

Yves Engler on his arrest and sentencing for shouting out "Martin lies, Haitians die" at an Election press conference in Montreal:

"I spent over four days in jail before being able to defend myself. I have been charged with breaking my conditions (“keep the peace”) from the first incident, disturbing the peace and using fake documents (it seems this relates to a press pass in my possession). In addition I have been forbidden from coming within 500 metres of any Member of Parliament or member of the Quebec National Assembly or of the Governor General until my process is complete (it could take years). Plus, I cannot write, call or email them.

While these conditions will be challenged in the legal system, I have thought long and hard for the past ten days about how to respond. The best I can come up with is this:

Mr. Prime Minister, I am honoured to live in a country where the legal system frees me after spending four days behind bars for embarrassing an important person. The real outrage is the fact that Canada has not demanded the release of seventy year old folksinger/activist, So Anne, who I met in a Port au Prince jail a year ago and still has not been charged. Or Catholic Priest Gerard Jean-Juste, who Amnesty international has called a “prisoner of conscience”. Or the constitutional Prime Minister and Interior Minister as well as hundreds of lesser known Haitians detained for their political convictions."

In Haiti, the roundups before the show election are in full swing:

"Just a couple of days earlier, I had been to see Jean Juste, who is recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and who has been in prison for four months since his latest arrest on bogus charges by the defacto Haitian government. This is the second time Father Jean Juste has been wrongfully imprisoned by the Latortue regime. "It seems that it's a matter of they don't want to release me in time for the elections," Jean Juste stated. "They are afraid I may run, afraid I may cause trouble, I may try to bring them to court for what they have done to me."

On the same visit to the jail, I also spoke with Jacques Matelier, a Lavalas deputy who is being held in the same prison as Jean Juste. "I have been here for 17 months," Matelier told me, "just because I was on the Council of Departmental Delegates in the South … they have nothing to accuse me with; their hands are empty. They just want to keep me in prison because I am a Lavalasien."

The following day, I visited popular Haitian folk singer and grandmother Annette "So An" Auguste, in the Petionville women's prison. So An has been imprisoned without charges since May 2004, when US marines used grenades to bust into her house, while she and five children were sleeping. So An appears to have been arrested merely because she is an outspoken critic who is extremely popular in Lavalas-supporting neighborhoods.

A few months ago, there were only 45 women in the Petionville prison; today there are about 200óor seven women to each tiny jail cell. Many of these women are from Bel Air. Guerline, an organizer with a Bel Air community organization that fights for women's rights, Famn Vayan Bele, told me that many Bel Air women have been locked up in Petionville after the police came searching for their male partners in their homes. When the police failed to find the men, they took the women instead. "It's another form of kidnapping," Guerline remarked about the imprisoned Bel Air women's hostage-like situation. The police have also hauled many young men from the neighborhood off to prison."


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