Deby: Zoe's Ark's pardon possible
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President Idriss Deby raised the possibility of a pardon for six French aid workers sentenced to eight years forced labour in Chad. The lawyer for the French workers told FRANCE 24 the next move was up to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad on Wednesday raised the possibility of a pardon for the six French charity workers convicted in Chad and now serving their sentence in France, over the Zoe's Ark affair.
"Given that the Chadian Constitution grants me the right to liberate anyone, whoever they are, Chadian or foreigner, it is not impossible, if France requests it of course, that I examine the question," said Deby in Ndjamena.
"For the moment, I have not reflected on this question," he added.
Deby's comments brought fresh hope to the six charity workers sentenced last month by French courts to eight years in prison following their conviction by the Chadian courts in December to eight years' hard labour.
They were convicted of having tried to abduct more than 100 children from the border with Sudan's war-torn Darfur.
(Speaking to FRANCE 24, Gilbert Collard, the lawyer representing the French aid workers said that following Deby’s recent declaration, it was up to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to make the next move.
“We have applied for a pardon,” he said, before adding, “for us, it’s the only way to get out of the current crisis. The lives of the imprisoned Zoe’s Ark members are in Sarkozy’s hands.”)
Legal agreements between the two countries allowed for the repatriation of the six to serve out their sentences in French jails.
After the French convictions in January however, their only remaining hope of being freed lay with the president.
Lawyers for the French had already filed formal requests for pardons.
Olivier Desandre-Navarre, lawyer for the logistical specialist Dominique Aubry, described Deby's comments as "a very encouraging sign".
"I hope he does it as soon as possible," said Mario Stasi, who represents the nurse Nadia Merimi.
During their trial in Ndjamena, the Zoe's Ark members had protested their innocence, saying they were misled by middlemen into believing the children were orphans from the Sudanese region of Darfur which borders eastern Chad.
But the French court ruled there had been no "blatant denial of justice" during their Chadian trial.
The Zoe's Ark members were detained on October 25 as they were about to put the 103 children on a French-bound flight from the eastern Chad town of Abeche.
International aid staff later found almost all the children on board to be Chadian, not war refugees from across the border, and to have at least one living parent.
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