The 10 American missionaries who attempted to sneak 33 children out of Haiti last Saturday were charged today with kidnapping.
“By this action, I think the Haitian government is sending a clear message to the world that there is a government in place, and that nobody can just take it upon himself or herself to come and do in Haitii whatever they think is good,” Mr. Joseph said by telephone Thursday from Washington, D.C.
The Baptist missionaries from Idaho and Kansas were brought Thursday before a judge who found sufficient evidence to charge them with abduction and criminal conspiracy. Those crimes can carry prison terms of up to 15 years.
The stated purpose of the New Life Children's Refuge group's “Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission” was to “rescue Haitian orphans.” But it came out that most of the 33 children had families and many of their parents had willingly given the children to the missionaries.
“We can say these people were acting in the best interests of Haiti’s children, but you must agree that what has happened is really out of the ordinary and it is illegal,” says Joseph. But he added that their motives will be taken into account during the upcoming trial and judgment.
“I am quite sure they’ll take into consideration the character of the people ... and perhaps show some compassion down the road,” he says.
It was unclear Thursday when or where the actual trial would take place. Prime Minister Max Bellerive said Monday that Haiti is open to having the American Baptist group tried in US courts, given the impact of the Jan. 12 earthquake on government institutions.
Christian groups, who have provided substantial aid to Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake struck, say they will continue to support the country despite the arrests.
“The heart of the meeting was coming to try to secure the release of the 10 missionaries who are being detained in Haiti,” says Mahoney, a Presbyterian pastor and activist from Virginia who personally knows several of the arrested Americans and works with their church in Idaho.
“I went as an advocate, saying I know what these people are like, I know who they are, and, even though mistakes were made, it’s important to know they are not child traffickers.”
Now, Mahoney says he is more disappointed in the White House than in Haiti’s officials.
“When you have Haiti’s prime minister referring to caring Christians as kidnappers, and no response from our administration about that, it’s deeply troubling.”
Joseph said he has not spoken with the White House regarding the missionaries’ arrest, but it will not become a sore point between the two countries.
“I don’t see why this should cause any friction,” he says. “I’ve talked with some people off of the record and most agree that this was uncalled for, the way [the missionaries] did it.”
Joseph said the missionaries are being held in a makeshift jail. He said they were being cared for and well fed.
In a similar case, 16 Europeans from a France-based group called Zoe's Ark were charged in 2007 with trying to smuggle 103 children out of Africa. While they were convicted and sentenced to eight years of hard labor, Chad's president pardoned the group.
Joseph said he was familiar with the case, but that it did not necessarily provide a precedent for the current one.