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Haiti judge recommends provisional release of US citizens in kidnapping case

[JURIST] The Haitian judge overseeing the prosecution of 10 US citizens charged with kidnapping in the wake of the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive] said he will recommend their provisional release pending the investigation. Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said he will send the recommendation to the prosecutor [AP report], who has the ability to object, but ultimately the judge has the final say on whether they are released. The judge made the decision after hearing testimony from the childrens' parents that they were voluntarily given to the American missionaries. Even if released, the Americans will not be able to return to the US until a ruling on their case is made. It is unclear [NYT report] whether the prosecution will support the release or whether the charges will be dropped. If convicted, the missionaries face up to 24 years in prison.

The Americans, many of whom were from the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge [BBC profile], were charged [JURIST report] last week in connection to their attempt to take 33 children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic where the group claimed it hoped to start an orphanage. Haitian authorities claim, however, that many of the children were not orphans, but given up by their parents to the missionaries who promised a better life for the children. The ten were each charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of criminal association. Lawyer Edwin Coq, who is representing the group, said that prison conditions were sub-standard and that his clients were not receiving adequate food and water. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has now been estimated at 230,000.

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