Five priests, two nuns and 3 others were abducted together while they were “on their way to the installation of a new parish” in Haiti near the capital of Port-au-Prince.
The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of $1 million for the group’s release. Among the kidnapped are French citizens.
Authorities suspect an armed gang called “400 Mawozo” – which is active in kidnappings – is behind the abduction.
Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation, which has been rocked by recent political unrest.
The rise in gang violence and political instability have recently drawn protesters onto the streets of Port-au-Prince.
In March, the Haitian government declared a month-long state of emergency to restore state authority in gang-controlled areas, including in the capital.
The measure was motivated by the actions of armed gangs who “kidnap people for ransom, openly declaring it, steal and loot public and private property, and openly confront the public security forces”, according to the presidential decree.
The public has also responded to the increase in crime, with hundreds of female protesters last week rallying in the capital against the gangs’ growing power.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has also been in a months-long political crisis as President Jovenel Moise maintains that his term of office runs until February 7, 2022, while others argue it ended on February 7, 2021.
The disagreement stems from an initial election won by Moise in November 2015, that was later cancelled for fraud. Moise was re-elected a year later.
With legislative elections postponed indefinitely in October 2019, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the country has been without a parliament since January of 2020, casting it into further crisis.
Moise is governing by decree, which has fuelled mistrust, protests and crackdowns by police.
Amid the instability, Moise has said he plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June, which critics call part of a larger effort to consolidate power.