WASHINGTON/PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI - Fifteen people accused of plotting a coup in Haiti were released from prison Friday, 48 hours after an appeals court judge’s order.
Two detainees, a man and a woman, are still incarcerated.
According to Le Nouvelliste newspaper, the woman remains in prison because her name was misspelled in the release order. The name of the man, who is being detained at the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, was withheld. One of the lawyers representing the group, Marc-Antoine Maisonneuve, said he was doing everything possible to secure their release soon.
The judge who ordered the 17 people released agreed with Maisonneuve’s argument that the arrests were illegal because they occurred outside the parameters set out in the constitution. According to the law, arrests must be made between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., unless they occur during the commission of a crime.
The accused were asleep in their beds when they were arrested by law enforcement February 7.
President Jovenel Moise announced the arrest of 23 people during a midday address streamed live on Facebook on February 7. Standing in front of his private plane at the international airport with first lady Martine Moise, the president told Haitians that Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe would provide more details later that afternoon.
Jouthe said among those arrested was Supreme Court Justice Yvickel Dabresil.
“Those people had contacted the official in charge of security for the national palace who were to arrest the president and take him to Habitation Petit Bois and also facilitate the swearing in of a new provisional president who would oversee the transition,” the prime minister told reporters.
Jouthe said he saw and heard proof in the form of audio recordings, signed documents and the text of a speech for the inauguration of the new president.
American Dan Whitman, a retired U.S. State Department and Foreign Service employee, was allegedly the mastermind of the plot. Whitman denied the accusation in an interview with VOA a day after the incident.
"I don't know who is spreading this narrative or why. I've never met or heard of any of the individuals mentioned — and don't know why my name would be used in this regard," Whitman told VOA in a phone interview, adding that he has not been to Haiti in 20 years.
Five of the detainees were released within days, after it was determined they were not involved in the coup plot. Supreme Court Justice Dabresil was released February 11.
The arrests sparked outcry from the opposition and nationwide protests calling for their release. The country's judges have been on strike for weeks as well, to protest their colleague’s arrest and the forced retirement of three supreme court justices. The work stoppage has virtually paralyzed Haiti's judicial system.
Matiado Vilme contributed to this report from Port au Prince, Haiti.