Haiti has released what it says are the last political prisoners in its jails just one month after U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young severely criticized the country's human-rights record during a visit to the Caribbean island.
The 104 prisoners were released Wednesday in a public ceremony in sharp contrast to two earlier prisoners releases conducted quietly in December and February.
It was believed that the U.S. government would be checking to see if those released Wednesday were actually political prisoners and if others remained in jail. In January, Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, said that only about 30 of the 90 prisoners released in December had been jailed for political reasons.
Haitian exiles and human-rights activists in the United States said they did not believe that the 104 released Wednesday were the only remaining political prisoners.
"We have the names of too many other people," said Sue Sullivan of the National Council of Churches, who works with Haitian exiles in the United States.
U.N. Ambassador Young made headlines during his visit to Haiti last month with unusually blunt public criticism of abuses of human rights there. He told reporters that he had given President-for-life Jean-Claude Durvalier, 26, a list of about 3 20 political prisoners and asked him for an accounting of them. A U.S. official said yesterday that some of those freed Wednesday were on the list, provided by Haitin exiles who met with Young before his trip.
Before meeting duvalier, Young held a press conference in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince at which he criticized "the imprisonment of voices of dissent, the denying of access to familes and the denial of the most fundamental due process."
Young hinted broadly that Washington would appreciated a change in policy by Haiti, saying: "When people understand the way the winds are blowing and if they want to go with those winds, they trim their sails accordingly."
The Carter administration has conducted an energetic campaign to persuade repressive governments of both left and right to provide more political freedom to their people. Facing the threat of aid cutoffs, several latin American countries - including Nicarague and Chile - have eased repressive measures.
In Wednesday's amnesty, the prisoners were lined up inside the Port-au-Prince prison as several reporters looked on, UPI reported. Each was identified by name, then they were marched to the prison gates where thousands of Haitians gathered outside broke into cheers and surged toward the prisoners. The prisoners were all dressed and showed no signs of physical abuse, but some appeared dazed, UPI reported.
It was announced in Port-au-Prince that 11 prisoners will not be permitted to remain in Haiti because they allegedly were trained in subversion by Cuba or the Soviet Union. It is believed that they will be deported to France. It was not clear whether the 11 were included in the 104 released.
A brother of one of the 11, who now lives in New Jersey, said his family had been told that the prisoner was still in jail but would be deported soon. He asked that his brother's name not be published until he was freed.
The prisoner, a 37-year-old professional educated abroad, had been held without charge since 1974, the brother said, adding that the prisoner had not been involved in any political activity.
Wednesday's amnesty was to mark the 20th year of the Duvalier dynasty, founded by the president's father, Francois Duvalier. U.S. officials in Washington saw it as a part of a gradual liberalization begun by the younger Duvalier after his father's death in 1971.