PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—A Haitian lawmaker whose name surfaced on a list of inmates who fled the country’s main prison the day of last year’s earthquake was detained by police Thursday shortly after his flight from France landed at the capital’s airport.
The detention of Dep. Arnel Belizaire marks a rare instance of a government official being jailed in Haiti.
Police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told The Associated Press that Belizaire was taken in for questioning because his name appeared on a list of the 4,200 inmates who set fire to the national penitentiary the day of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake and escaped.
Belizaire was elected to Haiti’s parliament in a March 20 runoff, a year and two months after the earthquake.
Dozens of Belizaire’s supporters, including a handful of fellow deputies, showed up at the airport late Thursday to call for his release. Belizaire was driven to the very prison where he had been locked up since 2004 on an illegal weapons charge.
Prime Minister Garry Conille, who went to the prison, said he did so to “make sure (Belizaire’s) rights have been respected.”
It’s rare for police to detain or arrest lawmakers because their positions as officials typically give them immunity. Criminal investigators must formally request the immunity to be lifted before the official can be questioned.
It was not immediately clear Thursday evening how Belizaire qualified for office because of his earlier criminal record. Candidates are required to show they have a clean record in order to run for office.
Belizaire belongs to Veye Yo, a political party that is aligned with former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The lawmaker has been openly critical of Haitian President Michel Martelly in recent weeks, and the two have lashed out at each other at the National Palace