Why a Jailed Missionary in Haiti Is Getting Little Attention
Update: Pye was freed Wednesday afternoon, March 16.
An American missionary jailed in Haiti for five months without charges is garnering little attention among American media or Christian advocacy organizations.
Danny Pye was imprisoned on October 13 after going to court to settle a conflict with the mission organization he founded and had recently been fired from. Haitian law allows prisoners to be kept for 90 days without being charged with a crime; Pye hasn't seen a judge or any formal charges for five months, according to his wife Leann.
Leann, who is due with their second child on March 27, moved to her mother's house in Florida at the end of January to wait for the baby's birth.
Since Haiti is a predominantly Christian country, it's not on the radar for organizations like International Christian Concern, said Jonathan Racho, manager for Africa and South Asia. "Places where Christian persecution is rampant, we have agents," he said. "But we can't focus on every country, so we have nothing in Haiti."
And since his imprisonment isn't due to his religion, there isn't room for organizations like the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to maneuver, said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom.
The Pyes were also warned by Haitian lawyers and government officials not to tell the American press of Danny's imprisonment, Leann said. "The judge was saying the more pressure he had, the longer he would take the sign the papers. I was also told if it happened to come down to paying somebody off and the American press was involved, the amount would be unimaginable. It wasn't until I came back to the States to have the baby that I realized that everything I was trying to do on the Haiti side just seemed to be pushing it back and back."
Pye founded a Haitian orphanage named Joy in Hope in 2003, which now cares for 22 children. Last summer, after growing conflicts between Pye and fellow workers in Haiti and supporters in the United States, Pye was removed from leadership, according to Timothy Heck, an Indiana therapist who provided counseling to Joy in Hope members after the 2010 earthquake.
A disagreement between Pye and another American couple over the ownership of Joy in Hope's land and vehicles led to a court date on October 13, according to Heck.
Pye agreed to sign the assets back over to the organization but was then jailed, ostensibly for contempt of court.
"We [were] timely, we were respectful, we were quiet," Pye said in an earlier interview. "I'm not sure what those charges were."
A second judge ruled that the charges were false and released Pye on December 24, he said. But the first judge had him arrested again, saying that Pye possessed false documents.
"When the attorney inquired about what the false documents were, they alluded to my ID card that I've had for about seven years of living in Haiti," Pye said. "They said American citizens didn't have any legal right to hold an ID card."
After Pye's Haitian attorney protested that the document was legal, the judge said he wanted to revisit the contempt of court charge, Leann said. "The judge is trying to keep Danny in jail for as long as possible," she said. "Right now I'm in a weird limbo."
There is much speculation as to the reason for Pye's imprisonment. Some, including Pye himself, blame it on his opponents in Joy in Hope. Some point to the fact that Pye was instrumental in renting a hotel for volunteers who came to Haiti last year to help after the earthquake; the judge was living there and was evicted as a result.