by BRIAN CONCANNON JR.
We have great news: Political prisoner Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, “Fr. Gerry” is right now on a plane in the air from Port-au-Prince to Miami. A cancer center in Florida has agreed to treat his leukemia, so he will get immediate attention for the cancer, as well as for the pneumonia he contracted this week.
Fr. Gerry was granted a provisional release, which requires him to return to Haiti after the treatment to face the charges still pending against him. The current charges against him are as baseless as the other charges which have been dismissed. Fr. Gerry’s lawyers at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (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 it is possible that the case will be dismissed without requiring him to return to court. If he is forced to return to court, the BAI lawyers will continue to fight the charges.
In the meantime, Fr. Gerry will be relatively safe, and will have his leukemia treated. Doctors who have examined him are hopeful that his disease is at a stage where it can be successfully treated, but they cannot be certain without more tests.
Today’s victory proves the Haitian proverb, ‘men anpil, chay pa lou-: many hands makes the load light. This mobilization has been by far the strongest and most persistent Haiti advocacy effort in the ten years that I have been involved in Haiti work. Everyone who called, faxed, wrote or emailed Haitian and US officials, everyone who signed a petition, everyone who forwarded information about Fr. Gerry to their church, their friends, and their family, should be proud. Close to a dozen human rights groups, over 50 members of the US Congress, and hundreds of religious, political and human rights leaders from all over the world joined together to make this moment possible.
Together we demonstrated that the world does care, that justice is possible, and that collective action does work. No small accomplishment.
Fr. Gerry said in a letter from prison on Friday: ‘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. I am very grateful to Amnesty Intternational and to all of you for helping fight for the human rights of all political prisoners, here in Haiti and across the world. Let’s keep the momentum on for justice, peace, love, and sharing to prevail all over the world as God wants it.’
Today we should all take the time to pat ourselves on the back. But tomorrow we need to get back to work, to help the political prisoners that Fr. Gerry left behind in Haiti.
Brian Concannon Jr., Esq. directs the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, www.ijdh.org, and is a former OAS Elections Observer and UN Human Rights Observer in Haiti.