By BEN FOX
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An American missionary who was abruptly jailed in southern Haiti and held without charges for five months was just as suddenly released, he said Wednesday.
Danny Pye, 29, a Christian pastor who runs an orphanage with his wife in the southern city of Jacmel, said the same judge who jailed him in October signed his release order Tuesday, allowing him to finally leave the cell he had shared with 28 other men.
“It’s been an experience I’ll never forget,” Pye said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Jacmel.
The missionary planned to spend the rest of the day Wednesday with children at his ministry before returning to Bradenton, Florida, where his wife is expected to give birth to their second child within days.
He said he would make the trip to Florida in a private plane donated by someone who had heard about his situation. He didn’t immediately release the donor’s name.
Judge Maxon Samdi initially jailed Pye over claims he took property from another group of missionaries, former associates with whom he split following a dispute last year. He was briefly released on Christmas Eve, then re-arrested and jailed on suspicion of having an invalid residency card.
The group said it had never intended for him to be jailed, and the U.S. Embassy complained about the Haitian Justice Ministry’s handling of the case.
Haitian law gives judges wide latitude to detain suspects without charges as long as they are under judicial investigation.
Pye said he was told that he was being released because the judge had found no cause to hold him, essentially clearing him of wrongdoing. Adline Douge Francois, an official with the court in Jacmel, said Samdi had been transferred to a rural district on Haiti’s southern peninsula and was not available for comment.
Conditions in Haitian jails are notoriously bad and the justice system is widely considered to be dysfunctional. The U.N. said in a recent report that nearly 70 percent of the prisoners in the country are still awaiting trial and that the space per detainee is “far below applicable international standards.”
Pye, who has lived in Haiti since 2004 and speaks Haitian Creole, said it felt strange to be suddenly free and relaxing at the beach with the children from his orphanage.
“It’s a little surreal,” he said. “I sometimes wonder if it was all a dream.”
The missionary said he was undeterred by the events of recent months and plans to return to Haiti soon with his daughter to continue the family’s work in Jacmel.