By FORTUNE NDLANGAMANDLA | 2019-08-04
Three Bangladeshi nationals who are apparently victims of human trafficking and are kept at the Mbabane police station have gone on a hunger strike, demanding that they be either released or be left to die.
This is the sensational turn of events in a case of alleged trafficking of persons that will rock the Human Trafficking Secretariat whose responsibility it is to protect victims of human trafficking.
The Bangladeshi are refusing to eat, going into a second day of hunger strike, in a case that has seen them being transferred from the half-way house to the care of the police.
It is a scandal of major proportions for the Secretariat, especially as these nationals are victims, and not accused of trafficking. The Secretariat has a responsibility to protect such victims with all their might.
Chief Police Information and Communications Officer (PICO) Superintendent Phindile Vilakati confirmed yesterday that the three Bangladeshi nationals were with them as there was an on-going case. However, she declined to get into the depths of the matter stating that it was being handled by different ministries.
“For security reasons, we cannot get into its details,” she said briefly.
Of note, it is believed that the three are alleged to have been trafficked into the country about three years ago. In the period, they were employed at a business run by their fellow nationals, who they reportedly turned against and reported to the police that they were being treated unfairly. They accuseds their employer of reneging on promises he made to them when he brought them into the country.
The three are known to the newspaper, but their names will be withheld as they are alleged victims of a human rights violation.
It was reported on June 26, 2019 that a police crackdown resulted in the arrests and questioning of Mohammed Ali Jinnah (52), who is accused of trafficking the Bangladeshi nationals into the country with intentions to exploit them, for a period spanning over three years.
The case is on-going, however what has frustrated the three is the conditions they have endured for the duration of their stay at the halfway house and alleged threats by a senior official of the secretariat who is said to have threatened to shoot the Bangladeshi.
“They have complained that the conditions are appalling, not conducive for any human being, let alone one accused of having been trafficked,” said a source.
After being in the halfway house, the victims raised these concerns, however they fell on deaf ears. According to a source, they were shocked and feared for their lives when they were threatened last Saturday by the officer, in the presence of a police officer who is supposed to protect them.
They were subsequently moved to the care of the police, where they have said that they have had enough of the bad living conditions such as sleeping on the floor, without any necessities and proper meals.
As a result when one of them fell ill, early in the week, they decided that enough was enough.
Normally, such victims are kept under the care of the Human Trafficking Secretariat, however, it is said that a senior officer threatened to shoot them last Saturday night.
As a result of the threats, it is said that the three were thereafter moved from the protection house that the Secretariat is mandated to provide to individuals who are suspected victims of trafficking. They are currently under the care of the police at the Mbabane Police Station; however, they have also strongly demonstrated that they want to be released from police custody. The Sunday Observer is aware that the suspected trafficked middle-aged men since Tuesday embarked on a go-hunger-strike as they stated that they should be released or let to die from hunger than to be kept under government’s watch.
“The trio has also made a court application whereby they asserted that there were not victims of human trafficking, so they want to be released,” as source said.
On the other hand, there have been uncertainties over who was behind the court case as it was suspected that one of the perpetrators was footing their legal representative’s costs.
The Sunday Observer understands that the phones of the victims were allegedly taken from them while they were in the police station. This is also one of the reasons why the three men want to be released, complaining that they have been disconnected from their family and others they could reach out to.
There was drama yesterday afternoon at the police station when the Bangladeshi nationals repeated their demand to be released, telling police officers that one of them was not feeling well.
The three men, who looked frail and drained, protested that they should be released.
A police officer, Msutfu, pleaded with them that they should end the hunger strike. This was shortly after the trio had informed him that they were experiencing some pains. “You should eat so the pain goes away. What you are doing is unfair on us because the matter is being dealt with. We know that you have overstayed here but I’m begging you guys to eat so you would feel alright,” said the officer.
Another police officer called Mkhwanazi thereafter joined the chat, he also asked the trio to end the hunger strike. However, after seeing that the plea was falling on deaf ears as the trio continued to ask to be released he went outside the reception room. Meanwhile, Msutfu assured the gentlemen that they would be released by Monday afternoon through court proceedings.
“Even if I was to take you to the courts now, they are closed as it is a weekend so you can only be released on Monday. The prime minister’s office is working on the matter so your release could be commissioned by the court. We are working on the matter. The gentleman who visited you in the morning is the regional commissioner.
That shows the seriousness of the matter so by Monday you would be out of here,” the officer tried to convince the trio. There was a moment of silence as if the trio were digesting what they were just told by the officer. After a while, they vanished to the back rooms.
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