April 1st, 2008 08:18 EST
Presidential Pardon Frees Charity Workers
By Lisa Bryant
President Deby signed a presidential pardon that paved the way for the release of six members of the Zoe's Ark charity who were convicted for abducting 103 African children and take them to France.
A Chadian court sentenced them earlier this year to eight years of hard labor, a sentenced translated into equivalent prison terms in France where they were subsequently transferred.
The six, who were arrested in October as they were poised to fly a planeload of children to France, have consistently denied the charges. They maintained they wanted to help refugees from Darfur, Sudan, just across the border and that they had been deceived by middlemen.
The children turned out not to be Sudanese, and many of them had living relatives.
Celine Lorenzon, lawyer for Zoe's Ark president Eric Breteau, reacted with relief at the news of Mr. Deby's pardon.
Lorenzon told France-Info radio the six had already spent six months in prison. It was six months too many, she said.
The presidential pardon had been expected. Mr. Deby said earlier this year he was ready to do so.
Still uncertain, however, is the status of the nearly $10 million damage award and interest payments a Chadian court ordered the six to pay. The French government says it will not pick up the tab.