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27993: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti political prisoners relieved at new president (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Several jailed allies of ousted
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide hope the victory of his one-time
supporter, Rene Preval, in the presidential election will mean freedom for

Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, former Interior Minister Jocelerme
Privert and a pro-Aristide political activist and singer, Annette Auguste,
are considered by some human rights groups to be political prisoners.

Speaking or writing from jail, they said they expected the interim
authorities, which have ruled Haiti since Aristide fled an armed revolt in
2004, to release them before the new government takes office at the end of
March in the troubled Caribbean country.

"We hope that the interim government, which has put us in jail for
political reasons, will have the decency to release us before the
inauguration of President Preval," Privert told Reuters on Friday.

"If not, we will address the same demand to the new administration of
President Preval because as political prisoners, it is the government which
has to free us," said Privert, wearing a white T-shirt and blue shorts as
he sat at a small prison table with a laptop by his side.

Preval was named president a week after the Feb. 7 election when thousands
of angry supporters began to protest against suspected fraud that seemed
aimed at denying him a first-round election victory.

Fearing a blood bath and urged on by diplomats, election authorities
changed the way they counted blank ballots to give Preval a first-round
victory. He was opposed by the same rich elite who helped oust Aristide and
supported by the poor masses who provided the backbone of Aristide's
political power.

Privert and Neptune have been jailed for nearly two years after being
accused of being involved in a massacre of around 50 people in Feb. 11,
2004, near the northern town of St-Marc. Few bodies were ever found,
however, and both men have denied the accusations.

The judge who investigated the allegations indicted Privert because he
failed to condemn the massacre. That was sufficient evidence, the judge
said, that Privert supported the killings.

Neptune, who served as prime minister under Aristide, has long said his
arrest was politically motivated, a charge the interim government denies.

"It's not the justice system that has thrown Annette Auguste, all the other
political prisoners and myself in jail," Neptune wrote in a Feb. 21 letter
to President-elect Preval.

"It's the machinery of injustice, set up by the government resulting from
the coup, which has committed this criminal act. They should be released
way before the government, elected by the majority of the people, takes
office," Neptune said.

Neptune, and Father Gerard Jean-Juste, another leading figure in Aristide's
Lavalas Family Party, were both considered likely favorites to win the
presidency if they had not been jailed. Preval entered the race at the last

Preval this week said the constitution allowed the president to pardon
people prosecuted for political reasons.

But Auguste, known as So Ann and jailed since May 2004 on vague charges of
involvement in a fracas at a university in the capital, said that was not
what she wanted.

"Someone who is pardoned is someone who has committed a crime or other
wrongdoing," she told Reuters from the women's prison in the Port-au-Prince
suburb of Petionville, wearing a green dress and sitting on a small chair
outside her cell.

"I am a political prisoner. I did not do anything wrong."