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Mission group testifies in Haiti

Laura Silsby, 40, of Meridian, Idaho, arrives for a court hearing.  (Associated Press)
Laura Silsby, 40, of Meridian, Idaho, arrives for a court hearing. (Associated Press)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The 10 missionaries facing kidnapping charges in Haiti testified as a group in a closed-door hearing Wednesday before an examining judge but their anticipated release did not happen.

The case will now be transferred to a local prosecutor, who has five days from today to review the dossier and report his findings to Examining Judge Bernard Saint-Vil and decide if the defendants should be released or jailed, or if attorneys need to call more witnesses.

Once the judge receives the prosecutors’ dossier, Saint Vil has up to two months to make a final decision on whether the defendants should be released.

Meanwhile, some prominent American Baptists in the United States, including Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have been enraged by the handling of the case.

Land, who wrote to President Barack Obama on Saturday asking him to do “everything in your considerable power to secure the release” of the detainees, said Wednesday he was growing increasingly frustrated with what he viewed as inaction.

“If I were the president, I’d call President Preval and say, ‘President Clinton is down there and we’re going to have him swim by and pick up the missionaries and we’ll adjudicate any court issues in the U.S.,’ ” Land said.

In addition to kidnapping charges, the missionaries face criminal association charges.

The missionaries, most from an Idaho Baptist group, arrived at their hearing shortly after noon Wednesday, squeezed into a Haitian police truck after they were shuttled from the police station cell where they are being detained. As they filed out the back of the truck, officers struggled to keep back several dozen photographers and reporters. A few of the missionaries held tightly onto well-worn copies of the Bible.

The missionaries’ 90-minute examination came the same day that several Haitian parents testified before Saint Vil, telling him they willingly handed over their children to the missionaries.