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Haiti Civilian Court Orders Release of Supreme Court Justice Accused in Coup Plot


Journalists gather outside the Supreme Court of Haiti (Cours de cassation)on February 8, 2021 in the almost empty streets of Port-au-Prince.

The head of the Civilian Tribunal of Croix-des-Bouquets has ordered the release of Supreme Court Justice Yvickel Dabresil.

The justice was one of 23 people arrested early Sunday in connection with an alleged coup attempt. A video produced by the Haitian National Intelligence Service and distributed to the press begins with mobile phone footage of Dabresil shortly after his arrest.

According to local media, the judge remains in detention at the Croix-des-Bouquets Government Commissioner's office, pending the enforcement of the release order.

Seventeen others who were arrested in a sting operation regarding the alleged coup attempt remain in detention.

On Tuesday, Dabresil was transferred out of the National Police Force Investigations Unit facility (DCPJ - Direction Centrale Police Judiciare - Haitian equivalent of the FBI) to a facility in Croix-des-Bouquets, located 13 kilometers northeast of Port-au-Prince. A VOA Creole reporter said the judge was transferred without being arraigned.

According to a human rights activist who visited Dabresil in detention, the justice refused to respond to DCPJ questions. Because Dabresil is an officer of the highest court of law in the nation, his legal authority supercedes that of the lower court judges, according to Haiti’s constitution.

Judge Samuel Madistin questioned the legality of Dabresil’s arrest.

"I think the arrest was completely illegal," Madistin said in an interview with a Haitian radio station, citing the fact that legal procedures were not followed. According to Madistin, the justice of the peace who is required to be on the premises before an arrest warrant is served was absent.

FILE - Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince.
FILE - Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince.

But in an exclusive interview with VOA Creole on Tuesday, President Jovenel Moise defended the operation that led to the arrests.

"The chief of the tribunal of Port-au-Prince was asked by a journalist who has jurisdiction over crimes against the state. He responded if you pull off a coup d'etat, you are a hero. If you don't, we will judge you as a criminal in a court of law with a jury," Moise said.

Pressed on the questionable circumstances of the arrest, Moise pushed back.

"A plot against the state isn't something that happens in a day, to invade the (national) palace, you would need a thousand people. This coup was planned. A national palace security officer was contacted by the plotters -- a foreigner contacted him to plan a coup d'etat and it was so well planned that they even had an arrest warrant with the president's name on it. We must be able to speak frankly about these things," Moise said.

The U.S. State Department and United Nations have expressed concern about the recent developments in Haiti.

“We understand the Haitian National Police is investigating 23 individuals who were arrested over the weekend. The situation remains murky, and we await the results of the police investigation," a State Department spokesperson told VOA.

Jacquelin Belizaire in Washington and Renan Toussaint in Port-au-Prince, Haiti contributed to this report.