By Mail Foreign Service
Ten American missionaries have been charged with kidnapping and criminal conspiracy for trying to smuggle children out of earthquake-stricken Haiti.
The Baptist group sang hymns as they were whisked off to jail after appearing in court in the capital Port-au-Prince.
They were arrested last week as they tried to take 33 Haitian children to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.
Held: Two of the accused leave the court after their hearing in Haiti today
It has since emerged that the parents of most of the children are still alive and handed them over in the hope they could find a better life in the U.S.
If convicted, the church group from Idaho could be jailed for up to 15 years.
As she entered the closed-door session, mission organiser Laura Silsby claimed: ‘We expect God’s will be done. And we will be released.’
But there was confusion as the hearing drew to a close with a lawyer representing the group claiming that he expected nine of the ten Americans to be released.
Accused: (L-r) Laura Silsby, 40; Charisa Coulter, 24, both of Boise, Idaho; Carla Thompson, 53, of Meridian, Idaho, and Jim Allen, 47, of Amarillo, Texas
But minutes later, the five men and five women were led looking grim and unsmiling to a bus and were driven back to jail.
After announcing the charges, Haitian Deputy Prosecutor Jean Ferge Joseph told the defendants that their case was being sent to an investigative judge.
‘The judge can free you but he can also continue to hold you for further proceedings,’ he added.
The Americans, who insist they did nothing wrong, were still behind bars last night awaiting the investigating judge’s decision.
The case has become a flashpoint for fears that child traffickers could profit from the chaos in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake.
Smiles: Laura Silsby, 40, left, and Charisa Coulter, 24, both of Boise, Idaho
Haitian authorities said the group lacked the authorisation and travel documents needed to take the children out of the country.
After the Americans’ arrest, evidence emerged that the majority of the children intercepted with them were not orphans.
Haitian police said some parents admitted to handing over their children to the missionaries in the belief they would get an education and a better life.
The defendants deny they were engaged in child trafficking and said they were just trying to help some of the thousands of orphans left destitute and abandoned by the quake.
The children, ranging in age from two to 12, are now being cared for at the Austrian-run SOS Children’s Village in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti’s government has tightened adoption procedures since the quake, saying it feared unscrupulous traffickers could try to take advantage of the disaster by spiriting away vulnerable children.
Officials said they already had reports of trafficking of minors, and even of human organs.
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Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group