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Attorney asks for release of volunteers

PORT-AU-PRINCE (BP)–The 10 Americans detained in Haiti on child kidnapping charges appeared before a Haitian judge again Feb. 5, and their attorney said he would ask that they be released until their trial begins.

During a closed hearing with an investigative judge, defense attorney Edwin Coq planned to seek a provisional release, which is similar to bail without money posted, the Associated Press reported. Coq hoped the Americans would be released the same day.

Meanwhile, supporters in the United States continued to await word on the detainees’ fate after the group, mainly from two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho, was arrested Jan. 29 for trying to transport 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic without proper documentation.

“We are anxious, fearful and concerned about our family members, especially the young people who are jailed in a foreign country,” the families of the detainees said in a statement posted on the website of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, Feb. 4. “Obviously, we do not know details about what happened and didn’t happen on this mission.

“However, we are absolutely convinced that those who were recruited to join this mission traveled to Haiti to help, not hurt, these children. We are pleading to the Haitian Prime Minister to focus his energies on the critical tasks ahead for the country and to forgive mistakes that were made by a group of Americans trying to assist Haiti’s children,” the families said.

On the website of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., the home church of one of the detainees, assistant youth pastor Drew Culberth, pastor James Keller wrote, “At times it seems like God isn’t actively involved in our lives. God does work at different times in unique ways at particular periods of time with various groups of people.”

“This coming Sunday we will be looking at the vivid similarities between what happened to Paul and Silas with scripture and what is going on with Paul [Thompson], Pastor Drew’s brother-in-law and Silas, Pastor’s Drew’s nephew [and Thompson’s son] in Haiti,” Keller wrote. “God is working today. Are you aware of that from a personal perspective? God’s mission hasn’t changed, His grace is just as available, His power is infinite and His love is limitless.” (Culberth is related to two of the detainees, Thompson, pastor of East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Thompson’s son.)

During his press briefing Feb. 4, spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. Department of State continues to interact with Haitian judicial officials and to provide consular services to the jailed American citizens.

“I would put this in the context of asking for clarifications about what their procedure would be, what the timeline [is] and capacity to be able to pursue this case,” Crowley said. “… This will be a judgment based by the Haitian government on Haitian law.”

If the Haitian government wants to pursue other legal avenues regarding the case, Crowley said, the United States would be “happy to have that kind of follow-up discussion.”

“But right now, the matter rests within the Haitian judicial system,” he said. “We respect that, and we will continue to have discussions with the Haitian government as this case proceeds.”

Crowley added that there are “a number of options” available to the Haitian government as the case moves forward, but the evaluation of the facts in the case will be the responsibility of the Haitian judge.

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, along with Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick released a statement Feb. 4 reacting to news that the Americans were charged with child kidnapping and criminal association.

“We have been in regular communication with the State Department from the beginning of this situation, as well as working with the families of those involved,” the congressional delegation said. “Our first concern has been that all ten of the detainees have their physical and medical needs met, as well as access to legal representation.

“While it is not good news that they have been charged, we are continuing to make certain they are treated humanely while this matter is resolved; we hope that the judge will act quickly,” the lawmakers said. “Additionally, we will continue our efforts with the Department of State to ensure the Haitian judicial process is followed and the case comes to a swift conclusion. This is a difficult time for the families of the individuals involved and we will continue to do what we can for them.”

In a previous statement Feb. 1, the Idaho delegation had expressed a concern that the detainees, eight of whom are from Idaho, receive “adequate food, water, medical care and proper housing.”

“We hope for their return to the United States as quickly as possible,” they said.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board circulated a memo Feb. 5 to staff, missionaries and trustees to clarify that the Americans detained in Haiti were not working in conjunction with the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, NAMB or the International Mission Board.

Media reports have indicated the Americans were missionaries, but NAMB emphasized that they were instead volunteers largely from Southern Baptist churches working independent of SBC entities.

“We are saddened and concerned that Haitian authorities have brought kidnapping charges against members of the volunteer mission team from Idaho. We believe the mission team had the best intentions for the children they were transporting,” Richard Harris, NAMB’s interim president, wrote in the memo.

“We ask that you join us in praying for the volunteer mission team in Haiti and that they will be freed very soon. We also ask Southern Baptists to continue to pray for the people of Haiti and to give generously to the efforts to bring them much needed relief and assistance,” Harris wrote.
Erin Roach is a Baptist Press staff writer.

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