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The leader of a Haitian gang has threatened to murder six missionaries being held in jail if he does not get what he wants.
Juris Kiprollevich, a member of a Haitian-American gang in Port-au-Prince, told the missionaries the 11 were in danger after they were accused of illegally entering the country in their group’s disabled and sick van.
The missionaries were being held by Haitian police on Friday.
Apostolic Christian radio reported Kiprollevich said the detainees were guilty of sexual and labour crimes that violated Haitian sovereignty.
Two Australian Australians are among the six held with four Americans. The van left Alabama for Haiti on Wednesday on a mission to take people with special needs to the Matadi airport.
One of the missionaries on the van told the Denver Post: “They were just trying to help. They had no idea.”
Bryson Paquette, 20, was at the wheel of the van and, according to the Australian broadcaster ABC, offered to give police a ride when they showed up to check on their welfare.
The missionaries were detained at a police station when police looked into their immigration status.
Police found evidence of drugs, guns and stolen property in the vehicle, according to the ABC.
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said on Thursday that an Australian diplomat had visited the missionaries and been assured that their welfare was being considered by Haitian authorities.
There is no current sign of urgency from authorities in the Haitian capital to release the group.
Many Evangelical churches in the US have close ties to Haitian co-operatives that also operate with evangelical Christian aid groups.
The group could face up to eight years in prison if found guilty of illegal entry, according to reports.
US missionary at centre of Haitian arrest ‘saw police surrounding van’ Read more
The US-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, which is not involved in the group’s case, has a history of tension with Haitian officials.
“Recent struggles over fundamental human rights continue to be a crucial reminder that vital evangelical humanitarian work in Haiti remains threatened by serious lack of respect for human rights,” the organisation said in a statement on Thursday.
The eight-member group flew into Haiti on Friday to visit families and to help them prepare for Passover.
James Misner, an organisation spokesman, said they also wanted to support the church after the missionaries learned that an American missionary had been found slain.
“Our concern is for the welfare of the church, the kids,” Misner said.
The group was on their way back to the airport after a medical clinic at Matadi turned them away because no transport was available.
The group’s pastor, Mike Dodson, told the Associated Press he was concerned about what the day would bring.
“It’s really, really difficult when you’re in the jail situation and the rule of law system isn’t working,” he said.