Police in Haiti detain women’s rights activist

Associated Press, 10 March 2003

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Police arrested a women’s rights activist three days after she led an anti-government demonstration, charging her and her husband with possessing illegal arms.

Activist Carline Simone and her husband, Serge Simone, were arrested because illegal automatic weapons were found in their vehicle, police spokesman Jean-Dady Simeon said Monday.

The two were detained by police Sunday afternoon in the seaside shantytown of La Saline, said Pierre Esperance, director of the National Coalition of Haitian Rights.

Police were responding to threats made against the couple by unidentified armed men as the two prepared to meet a group of women, Esperance said.

Later, police took the couple from a downtown police station to another station in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas, where they were jailed, said Esperance, who visited the couple.

Simone, who heads the woman’s rights group Women the Rising Sun, led a demonstration of about 100 people Friday to protest economic conditions in Haiti and call for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The government shouldn’t think we’re zombies, she said, demanding the government return to its former policy of subsidizing gasoline.

The government halted fuel subsidies on Jan. 1, and since then, the price at the pump has nearly tripled. Transportation costs have doubled, and the price of staple food products has risen 60 percent.

Since November, dozens of anti-government demonstrations have been calling for Aristide’s resignation. At least four people have died and more than 350 have been injured in clashes with police and Aristide supporters.

Police dispersed Friday’s protest, saying demonstrators had not respected the announced route.

Human rights groups both in Haiti and overseas have criticized what they say is a deterioration of the human rights situation under Aristide.

Last week, the European Union said in a statement that it is alarmed at recent reports of increases in threats and intimidating behavior toward journalists and human rights and opposition militants... by armed individuals loyal to the government.

Aristide’s government has faced stiff opposition since disputed 2000 legislative elections that were swept by his Lavalas Family party. The international community is withholding millions of dollars in aid and loans until the government and opposition agree on holding new elections.

While Aristide has pledged new legislative elections this year, the opposition has resisted, saying the government first must guarantee security and bring perpetrators of political violence to justice.

In spite of opposition demands that he step down early, Aristide has said he will serve out his term, which ends in 2006.