A Mother’s Day Call for Justice in Haiti’s Prisons

In Haiti’s overcrowded prisons the constitutional Prime Minister Yvon Neptune lies on his deathbed as hundreds of other political prisoners languish behind bars without charges. Neptune’s sacrifice has cast a light into the shadows of Haiti’s prisons and thousands of people around the world have felt compelled to speak out, unable to forget the injustices illuminated by Neptune’s courageous and tragic hunger strike.

Neptune’s case is a microcosm of a much larger problem that has plagued Haiti since the overthrow of the democratically elected government in February 2004. Since that time Haiti’s justice system has been hijacked by an interim government intent on silencing dissent and there is no semblance of due process for those identified as Aristide supporters.

During the past year Haiti’s prisons have been filled to overflowing and human rights groups estimate that in the National Penitentiary alone there are 1054 prisoners and only 9 have been tried and convicted. Many of these prisoners are men and women arrested solely for their political allegiances and their commitment to the Lavalas party’s programs for community development.

We cannot allow Neptune’s call for justice to go unheeded and we will continue to pressure the Haitian government to spare his life by acknowledging his innocence and releasing him. To take action on Neptune’s behalf please visit the website for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (www.ijdh.org).

Neptune’s chances for survival fade by the hour as he enters the third week of his hunger strike. The world will have to act quickly to save his life but the mobilization cannot stop there. There are hundreds of others who need our attention. Citizens and organizations around the world must continue to advocate for justice in Haiti so that the current human rights crisis doesn’t disappear back into the shadows.

In this spirit sixty organizations from across the United States and Canada comprised of human rights, labor, peace and justice and women’s groups have come together on Mother’s Day to draw attention to the ongoing repression in Haiti by calling for the release of another well known Haitian political prisoner, Annette Auguste, known as So Anne.

So Anne, is a 63 year old grandmother, popular Haitian singer, community organizer and pro-democracy activist arrested last Mother’s Day weekend by US Marines. The Marines used plastic explosives to enter So Anne’s house in Port au Prince in the middle of the night, in direct violation of the Haitian constitution. After killing her two dogs and cuffing and hooding all of the members of her family, including 4 minors, they arrested So Anne without a warrant.

Marine’s initially claimed that they had received information that she was stockpiling weapons in her home and collaborating with a local mosque in a plan to attack US interests in Haiti. In a statement released shortly after her arrest Marine spokesman David Lapan said, “I can’t specifically get into intelligence information that we have about activities that she and others were involved in – but a mosque is, at least, mentioned in some of these activities.”

Since that time the authorities managed to produce a back dated warrant based on bigoted allegations of witchcraft, and unsubstantiated accusations that she participated in violence at a demonstration on December 5, 2004, though many witnesses can attest that she was in the recording studio at the time.

Although no weapons were found on the premises and despite the fact that she has never been formally charged due to a lack of evidence against her, she continues to be held at the Petionville Penitentiary in Port au Prince, Haiti. Last November Kofi Annan specifically called for justice in the case of So Anne insisting that she either be charged and tried or released. To date his words have not been heeded by the US installed government, nor has Annan backed up his demands with concrete action.

The truth is that So Anne, like hundreds of others, is imprisoned because of her continued calls for a return to constitutional authority, her outspoken criticism of the US-backed interim government, and her powerful organizing potential.

Here is an except of a letter from So Anne written soon after her arrest:

From my cell I am given hope by the many voices being raised against the injustice the people of Haiti are being forced to suffer today. I am grateful to Congresswoman Maxine Waters and countless others who have stood up in solidarity with the Haitian people, in order to stop the bloodletting and help the outside world to know the truth and reality we are faced with today.

I send you all my love and gratitude for remaining strong in separating the lies from the truth in Haiti’s current situation. I send you all my blessings as a free Haitian woman fighting for the rights of the impoverished majority in my homeland.

They may imprison my body but they will never imprison the truth I know in my soul. I will continue to fight for justice and truth in Haiti until I draw my last breath.

– Annette Auguste, Petionville Penitentiary, Port au Prince Haiti May 23, 2004

The poor communities that So Anne worked with prior to her arrest have not forgotten her courageous activism nor has one year in prison dampened her commitment to social justice. So Anne holds regular literacy classes in the prison, continuing her efforts to improve the lives of those around her. And on the outside, her friends and supporters continue to mobilize weekly for her release. On Saturday April 30, despite tremendous repression, thousands of people marched to So Anne’s house demanding the release of all political prisoners.

Please join the Haiti Action Committee, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and other organizations that are part of the Coalition to Free So Anne in calling for the immediate release of So Anne and all prisoners in Haiti held solely for their political beliefs. The world can honor Yvon Neptune’s sacrifice by standing by our brothers and sisters in Haiti and keeping the light of justice firmly fixed on the ongoing human rights crisis.

To take action on So Anne’s behalf by signing a petition, contacting officials or purchasing her CD please visit www.haitiaction.net.

Coalition to Free So Anne

Haiti Action Committee, CA; Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, OR;

Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, CT;

Marin Interfaith Taskforce on the Americas, CA;

Code Pink Women for Peace Hayward, CA;

SF Women in Black, CA;

Haiti Justice Committee, MN;

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, CA;

Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, CA;

Jewish Voice for Peace, CA;

Justice for Palestinians, CA;

Sacramento Coalition for Democracy in Haiti, CA;

Fondasyon Mapou, DC;

East Bay Sanctuary Covenant;

Haiti Committee, CA;

International Socialist Organization, CA;

Campus Peace Action CSUS, CA;

St. Joan of Arc Haiti Committee, MN;

Peace No War Network, USA;

Progressive Democrats of America Sacramento Chapter, CA;

San Francisco Bayview Newspaper, CA;

Interfaith Women for Peace, CA;

Fanm Lakay, NY;

Konbit Ayisian Kakola, NY;

Veye Yo, FL;

Fanm Veye Yo, FL;

SEIU 715 African American Caucus, CA;

Lake County Amnesty International, CA;

Welfare Poets, NY;

Out of Control Lesbian Committee to Support Political Prisoners, CA;

Cape Codders for Peace and Justice, MA;

April6Vt Citizens Lobby, VT;

Nicaragua Center for Community Action, CA;

Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean, DC;

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, DC;

Haiti Solidarity Committee, FL;

Quixote Center/Haiti Reborn, MD;

Haitkaah Social Justice Center, MA;

Haiti Solidarity British Columbia, Canada;

Cuba Study Group Santa Cruz, CA;

Bolivarian Circle Santa Cruz, CA;

Vancouver Latin America-Caribbean Solidarity Committee, Canada;

Code Pink Bay Area, CA;

Code Pink Portland, OR;

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 – International Solidarity Working Group, Canada;

Women for Peace, WI;

Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, OR;

East Timor Action Network, WI;

Haiti Support Network, NY;

Global Exchange, CA;

CESAPI Coalition in Solidarity with the People of Iraq, Canada;

ActionLA Americas Watch, CA;

South Bay Labor for Peace and Justice, CA;

San Franciscans for Our City’s Health, CA;

Women’s Fightback Network, MA;

No One is Illegal Vancouver, Canada;

International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal;

Gabriela Network Bay Area, CA;

Turnwind Peace and Justice, AZ

SASHA KRAMER is a PhD. candidate at Stanford University who has travelled to Haiti three times this year on human rights delegations. She can be reached at: sash@stanford.edu