French charity workers sentenced to eight years of hard labor in Chad, on charges of having tried to kidnap more than 100 African children, are appearing before a French court this morning. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports the French are expected to serve up to eight years in prison in their home country, instead, without the hard labor.
The six French charity workers are members of the Zoe's Ark charity who were arrested October in Chad for trying to fly 103 African children to France. They were sentenced to eight years of hard labor in Chad. The Chadian court also sentenced the six to fines of more than $1 million, each.
But France struck an agreement with N'Djamena for their return and to have their sentences translated into French terms. France does not hand down sentences of hard labor.
The six have been imprisoned since their return to France, late last month. Monday, only five appeared before a judge in the Paris suburb, Creteil. One of them, Zoe's Ark head Eric Breteau, has been on a hunger strike and appeared emaciated.
The six deny they intended to kidnap the children. They initially claimed the children were Sudanese orphans from war-torn Darfur and that they hoped to offer them homes in France. But international experts found most children were neither orphans nor Sudanese. The charity workers later claimed they had been duped by local middlemen.
Before their appearance before the Creteil court, Monday, the lawyer for Breteau criticized their sentences in Chad.
Interviewed on France-Info radio, Lawyer Gilbert Collard described Chad as a "totalitarian regime." He says the forced labor sentences handed to the French there did not correspond to French laws or to European conventions.
The case stirred uproar in Chad, a former French colony. It comes at a sensitive time, because France is expected to head a European Union force to help protect refugees from Darfur, just across Chad's border.