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Throwing Activists Into Crowded Jails: How Haiti's Government is Silencing the Opposition

Haitian political activist David Oxygène, recently released from prison, says repression of the opposition will continue.

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“Martelly promised that he was going to make change but nothing has changed, and people see that. People’s bad situations have gotten worse,” Oxygène says. “There is growing discontent in the quartiers populaires, or poor neighborhoods, where young men don’t have work and families go hungry.”

During his two-month stay in prison, Oxygène was held in a section of the National Penitentiary called “Titanic,” a cell made for 34 people but held as many as 100 prisoners. They receive a small quantity of untreated water daily, which is for brushing one’s teeth, bathing and even drinking.  Prisoners often suffer from digestive diseases and skin problems as a result.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared Haiti’s miserable conditions for pre-trial detainees and ongoing human rights violation in its 2008 ruling in the Yvon Neptune case.

“The conditions are really harsh. People fight everyday – there are at least 10-15 fights a day,” Oxygène says.  “Men stab one another, smoke, take drugs, and become frustrated because of the conditions of the prison.  Their frustrations make them cruel and they lash out against others.” 

The arrest and imprisonment have only reaffirmed his commitment to activism, though Oxygène knows he is likely to be arrested again.  “These kinds of things can either break you and make you turn away from the struggle, or they can fortify you to battle harder for change. For me, it made me stronger to continue the struggle and never give up until I see change or until they kill me.

Ann nou batay pou viktwa final, pou chanjman mond la,” he says. Let’s fight for the final victory, for the world to change. “First, in the place where you live, and second, in all other places where there is injustice.”

Fran Quigley is clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.


Meena Jagannath is a legal fellow at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux

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