Global General

Haiti frees US missionary held over kidnapping

Updated: 2010-03-09 04:59
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* One US missionary remains in Haiti jail

* Case threw spotlight on child trafficking after quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE - A court in Haiti on Monday freed a US missionary jailed for weeks on charges of kidnapping children in the chaos that followed the country's devastating January 12 earthquake, witnesses said.

Haiti frees US missionary held over kidnapping

Charisa Coulter sits inside the court house in Port-au-Prince, February 23, 2010. [Agencies] 

Charisa Coulter was due to fly out of Haiti for the United States. Haitian authorities had arrested 10 missionaries in January but eight were released in February and only the group's leader, Laura Silsby, remains in jail.

Asked by Reuters how she felt on her release, Coulter said: "Bittersweet. I am glad to go back home but the experience has been very difficult."

She then climbed into a US embassy car and left the central police station.

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The case threw a spotlight on fears that child traffickers could prey on vulnerable children after the quake and also on the merits of rapid international adoptions for earthquake orphans, a practice the government later banned.

Critics say the case has diverted attention from the hardships faced by more than 1 million Haitians displaced by the quake, including thousands of orphaned children.

Silsby, Coulter and eight other Americans, most of whom are members of a Baptist church in Idaho, were arrested on January 29 on charges they tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the country without proper documents.

All have protested their innocence and a judge found no evidence of criminal intent by the eight who were released earlier.

Silsby went to court on Monday but was due to return to jail as an investigating judge looks into a new charge that she was trying to organize travel from Haiti for others without proper papers, a lesser crime under Haitian law.

A Haitian judge on Friday signed an order to free Coulter, but delayed her release until Monday because court officials could not find a stamp used to validate the release document.