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25797: (news) Chamberlain: Jailed Haitian priest denies role in killing (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, July 22 (Reuters) - A popular Haitian priest
arrested on suspicion he was involved in the killing of a journalist,
denied on Friday he had anything to do with the slaying and accused the
government of persecuting him.
The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a prominent supporter and close friend of
ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said his arrest on Thursday after
the funeral of Jacques Roche, a journalist with the daily newspaper Le
Matin who was kidnapped and killed last week, was politically motivated.
"I was not even in Haiti when Jacques was kidnapped and killed. I was
in the U.S. I am 100 percent innocent," Jean-Juste said from his jail cell.
Jean-Juste, a Roman Catholic priest and a leading figure in Aristide's
Lavalas Family party who was imprisoned for seven weeks last year, was
jailed on Thursday after he tried to take part in Roche's funeral. At the
service, a government minister blamed Aristide supporters for the killing.
"I have a cousin that married one of his (Roche's) relatives,"
Jean-Juste said from his jail cell. "I wanted to pay tribute to him because
I was so touched by his assassination."
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Haiti's U.S.-backed
interim government, installed after Aristide's ouster in February 2004, of
persecuting Aristide followers.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment on
Friday, but interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has denied any political
persecutions by his government against opponents.
Roche, the culture and society section chief at Le Matin, was tortured
and killed last week after being kidnapped on July 10. His battered body
was found on a street in Port-au-Prince.
Jean-Juste alleged a pattern of harassment by Haitian authorities,
saying he was questioned by police when he returned to Haiti last Friday
but was released because "they did not find anything. They had to let me
Three days after his return, a judge issued a summons ordering him to
answer allegations he was plotting against state security.
"The judge could not find anything against me, because it was totally
unfounded," he said.
Jean-Juste was taken from his church last October while he was feeding
street children and was jailed for nearly seven weeks. His imprisonment
rallied to his side human rights groups, including Amnesty International,
which called on the Haitian government to improve its human rights record.