18 May 2010

American missionary freed by court in Haiti

1:51 pm on 18 May 2010

A court in Haiti has freed an American woman almost immediately after convicting her of trying to illegally take a group of children out of the country following the earthquake there in January.

Laura Silsby, 40, from Idaho, was sentenced to three months and eight days in prison - the time she had already spent there on remand and said she was free to leave the country.

The BBC reports Silsby was caught with nine other Americans trying to take the children into the Dominican Republic.

The other missionaries were not charged and returned to the United States.

They claimed they were trying to help destitute orphans. But it emerged that the children were not orphans. Some of the parents said they had handed them over because they thought they would get better care in US hands.

All 10 were initially detained by Haitian authorities, but only Silsby was charged with abduction.

This was downgraded to one of "irregular travel" - a crime which covers people smuggling.

Prosecutor Jean-Serge Joseph said she was sentenced to three months and eight days in jail - the exact time she had spent in custody awaiting trial.

The earthquake on 12 January killed more than 220,000 people and left more than a million homeless.