Haiti: government tries to arrest opposition lawyer

A failed attempt by Haitian police to search the car of a prominent lawyer, André Michel, the evening of Oct. 22 quickly turned into an embarrassment for the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”). Riot police stopped Michel in the capital’s Martissant neighborhood after 6 pm, in violation of a constitutional ban on nighttime arrests except in cases of active crimes. Joined by Port-au-Prince Government Commissioner Francisco René, the city’s chief prosecutor, the agents tried to search Michel’s car. A crowd of local residents gathered to protect the attorney. The agents dispersed the crowd with tear gas and took Michel to the police headquarters, where he spent the night.

Protests broke out in the downtown area the next morning, with several dozen youths throwing rocks and burning tires. Michel was taken to a judge who tried to send him to prison, but protesters and fellow attorneys removed Michel from the courthouse to the bar association office. In the afternoon three senators, who as legislators have immunity from arrest, took the lawyer under their protection. As of Oct. 24 Michel was still free and giving interviews to the media.

Michel represents the plaintiffs in a case charging President Martelly’s wife, Sophia Martelly, and his son, Olivier Martelly, with corruption. Judge Lamarre Bélizaire, who is close to the government, issued an order on July 26 for Michel to appear in court, but the attorney ignored the order. He kept a low profile for two months, but then participated in two large anti-government demonstrations starting on Sept. 30. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Oct. 23; Miami Herald, Oct. 23, from correspondent; New York Times, Oct. 24, from AP)

The incident with Michel coincided with the Oct. 23 release of a statement by the French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) about threats to radio journalist Jean Monard Métellus, host of the popular weekly political talk show “Ranmase” (“Wrap Up”). Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon had warned on Oct. 19 of reports about a contract for Métellus to be killed by two motorcycle hit men for $10,000. RSF said “protection needs to materialize quickly, just as a rapid investigation into the origin of the threats is also needed.” Dozens of people demonstrated outside Radio Télévision Caraïbes (RTVC), the station where Métellus works, on Oct. 25 to show their support for the journalist and their opposition to the government. “We’re facing a power which is in the process of constructing a dictatorship in the country,” warned Marie France Claude, a member of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party (PDCH). Opposition representatives regularly voice harsh criticisms of the government on “Ranmase,” although government ministers also appear on the program. (AlterPresse, Oct. 26;  MH, Oct. 23, from correspondent)

In other news, a report released by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) on Oct. 16 confirmed earlier reports that management at Haiti’s 24 garment assembly plants circumvents the current 300 gourde a day (about $6.85) minimum wage requirement by setting unrealistically high quotas for piece work. “The majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income,” according to the report. The offenders include the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC) in northern Haiti, built in part with aid from the US ostensibly intended to help the country recover after a January 2010 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. (NYT, Oct. 16)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 27.