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Detained Haiti lawyer says detention ‘political’

October 24, 2013

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Opposition figure Andre Michel charged Thursday that Haitian authorities held him overnight after a traffic stop to punish him for his political activities.

His detention led to violent street protests Wednesday and Michel’s “rescue” from a courthouse by his supporters just as a judge was ordering him taken to Haiti’s dreaded state prison.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Michel said he was charged with disobeying police after officers stopped him as he was being driven home Tuesday night. He said they wanted to search his gray Nissan Xterra and he refused, saying only a judge could inspect the car.

Michel, a lawyer who has brought several corruption cases against the government, contended the real reason for the incident was his work for the opposition.

“They arrested me for my political opinions,” Michel said. “My words are disturbing. My words are the truth. My words are the words of justice. My words are aggressive. This is why they want to put me in prison.”

Michel is one of the few lawyers in Haiti who takes on legal cases critical of President Michel Martelly. He was also a notable participant in two recent protests that drew thousands of people critical of the government, which is under pressure to hold legislative and local elections that are two years overdue.

Michel charged that because of those activities, police were waiting for him Tuesday night as he and his driver headed home.

A receptionist at the Justice Ministry said Attorney General Jean-Renel Sanon was unavailable. Sanon also did not answer calls to his cellphone. Government spokesman Francisco Rene couldn’t be reached for comment.

Michel’s overnight detention prompted dozens of young men to shut down parts of Haiti’s capital with burning barricades. They threw stones at vehicles and forced some drivers to abandon their trucks to block streets.

Some supporters stormed into the courthouse and snatched Michel as a judge was about to serve an arrest warrant. Several opposition lawmakers then drove him away in an SUV with official license plates, which by law makes the vehicle immune to being stopped by police.

The government condemned Michel’s removal, but stopped short of calling it illegal.

Michel said he isn’t a fugitive.

“A fugitive is someone you arrest, someone you put in prison and has escaped,” he said. “They didn’t execute the arrest warrant; they didn’t put me in prison; they can’t call me a fugitive.”

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