Mozambique: Judge Releases Traffickers in Women

Maputo — A Maputo judge has released the seven people arrested earlier this month for trafficking women from Mozambique to South Africa.

The spokesperson for the general command of the Mozambican police, Pedro Cossa, told reporters on Tuesday that he had no idea on what grounds the court released the seven men against whom the police had a very solid case.

Releasing the men does not mean that the case dies - the public prosecutor's office can press charges, but there must be a serious risk that the traffickers will now flee the country.

The seven were detained thanks to investigations by reporters from the Media24 group, which owns the Johannesburg paper "City Press". The journalists infiltrated the crime syndicate by passing themselves off as people interested in buying Mozambican girls who would then be forced to work in the South African sex industry.

Media24 alerted the Mozambican police, and the first arrests occurred on 17 March, in the Milano restaurant in central Maputo. Three members of the gang had just handed over a young Mozambican woman to two supposed buyers, still unaware that in reality that they were journalists, when the police swooped and detained the three. Four more members of the gang were arrested on 20 March.

Media24 had a mass of incriminating evidence against the traffickers, since the reporters secretly recorded all their conversations with the gang, and used hidden cameras to photograph the criminals and the girls they were trafficking (who believed that they would work as waiters in South African restaurants and hotels).

The reporters fund that the gang not only trafficked Mozambicans - they had contacts in Asia, and imported Chinese women to work as prostitutes in South Africa. Human life is cheap - the traffickers were selling Mozambican girls, some of them as young as 16, for 5,000 rands (680 US dollars) each

The Media24 investigation and the ensuing arrests were the main story in last week's issue of the independent Maputo weekly "Savana", and Cossa confirmed that, in all essentials, the "Savana" story was correct. He thus rejected the claim made on Monday, by the spokesperson for the Maputo City police command, Arnaldo Chefo, who denied that anybody had been detained.

Cossa said that the seven people detained were two Mozambicans and five Asians (of unspecified nationalities)

"These people were arrested, and 48 hours later they were handed over to the court", said Cossa. "The police came to know that they were released. We don't know what reasons the judge found to take that decision".

Cossa added that, between 5 and 19 March, Maputo courts released another 17 people whom the police thought should be behind bars while awaiting trial - these included several people who the police had arrested for armed robbery.

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