Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Free So Anne

Annette Auguste, known as So Anne, is a 63 year old grandmother, popular Haitian singer, community organizer and pro-democracy activist. She has been held without charges in a Port-au-Prince jail for over a year. The San Francisco Bay View reports that she was recently visited by several attorneys and observers affiliated with AUMOHD ((Association des Universitaires Motivés Pour Une Haïti Des Droits, Association of University Students Committed To A Haiti With Rights, pronounced "ohmode"). AUMOHD is, a human rights organization based in Haiti’s capital. The AUMOHD delegation reported that with her in the Pétionville Penitentiary are 108 other female prisoners, including 11 minors and 97 adults. The delegation also reported that more than 30 percent of these detainees have the flu, lice and a fever. Among the sick are two persons with AIDS, one a minor of 17 years and another woman 20 years old. It should be noted that there are no medications available for these sick people. There are also three pregnant women and two babies in this prison. Haitian attorney Evel Fanfan reports that Sò Anne is confined to a prison cell, built for two prisoners, but holding instead six-10 people.

The Haiti Action Committee says, "Sò Anne's only crime is fighting for democracy.” In fact, they are absolutely right. Annette Auguste played an important role in supporting the constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and helped to build the base of support among the majority of the poor in Haiti for that cause. Auguste, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has always been a frequent target for persecution due to her close ties with President Aristide. She is a leader of PROP (Pouvwa Rasembleman Organizacion Popile), a popular Lavalas organization (Fanmi Lavalas formed in 1996 as the Lavalas Political Organization, is a political party in Haiti, of which former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a member). She is also a singer of Haitian folk songs and is open about her practice of voodoo, officially recognized as a national religion for the first time in Haitian history under the Aristide administration. Auguste’s religious beliefs and practices have led to many unfounded, disparaging rumors and a campaign of demonization against her.

So how big a surprise was it when after midnight on May 9, 2004 US Marines smashed their way into her home and snatched her? Auguste’s residence is part of a compound that includes four other apartments that were also invaded by the U.S. military forces. The troops covered the heads of 11 Haitians with black hoods and then forced them to lay face down on the ground while binding their wrists with plastic manacles behind their backs. The victims of this terrifying U.S. military invasion included five-year-old Chamyr Samedi, 10-year-old Kerlande Philippe, 12-year-old Loubahida Augustine, 14-year-old Luckman Augustine, and seven adults. The Marines blew up a vehicle and a substantial part of Auguste’s three-story house, leaving behind c4 and c5 explosives paraphernalia including blasting caps and igniters.

Auguste was interrogated throughout the night of her kidnapping without counsel and in the absence of any except herself and Marine forces, and was then transferred to the Haitian National Police.

Global Action on Aging says, “The 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. 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, 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 a judge has ordered So Anne released on several occasions for lack of evidence against her, she continues to be held at the Petionville Penitentiary. Last November Kofi Anan 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 Anan backed up his demands with concrete action.

So Anne is not alone. Hundreds of others are imprisoned because of their continued calls for a return to constitutional authority and their outspoken criticism of the US-backed interim government. As Global Action on Aging says, “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.”

So Anne continues her work behind prison walls even today. So Anne holds regular literacy classes in the prison, continuing her efforts to improve the lives of those around her.

On the outside, her friends and supporters continue to mobilize weekly for her release.

You may still sign a petition calling for the release of Sò Anne at:

Sign petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/263040597?ltl=1120758107 Sources: SF Bay View, Haiti Action Committee, Chickenbones, Global Action on Aging, TransAfrica Forum, AfroCuba Web

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