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Zoe's Ark Aid Workers Get Eight Years in Prison in France

A French court has sentenced six aid workers to eight years in prison, after they were found guilty in Chad of the attempted kidnapping of more than 100 children. Chad agreed to extradite them so they could serve their jail time in France. Jade Heilmann has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The six aid workers were sentenced in December to eight years in prison with hard labor in Chad. Since hard labor does not exist in France, the sentence had to be changed after Chad agreed the convicts could be extradited to serve their sentences in France.

The French court in Creteil, southeast of Paris, converted the sentence to eight years imprisonment without hard labor.

Jean-Bernard Padaré, one of the group's lawyers, says his clients are still devastated.

He says their distress is understandable, that eight years is a significant amount of time, especially for something his clients insist was a humanitarian operation.

Padaré argues not enough of the defense was taken into consideration throughout the judicial proceedings, both in Chad and France.

The lawyer says they were hoping the French court would take into consideration the circumstances surrounding the trial in Chad, which he says did not meet international standards.

But he says they have not yet given up and will try to ask Chadian President Idriss Déby to pardon the six.

The group was arrested October 25 while trying to put 103 children on a plane to France.

The group insisted throughout their defense that they thought the children were orphans from Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur. But most of the children were later proven to have families and the majority were proven to be Chadian.

The group's transfer to France had created turmoil in Chad, where locals protested what they saw as special treatment for Europeans.

A Chadian and a Sudanese implicated in the attempted kidnapping are serving sentences of hard labor in Chad. Other foreigners who initially spent time in Chadian jails in connection with the case, including pilots, flight attendants and journalists, were freed.

 

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