Liberia: Used, Tortured and Deported

13 September 2019

-The story of two Indians

At the time Liberia is being listed as a hot spot for human trafficking in the West African sub-region, the stories of what appears to be modern slavery is painstakingly being told by victims of alleged torture and abuses.

Yogesh Khemnani and Girish Khanwanni, were brought into this country nearly two years ago by their former employer, Mr. LalBhagwani, owner of K. Lal Shopping Center in Clara Town, a suburb of Monrovia as store keepers-but it was all never a greener pasture for them.

On the 23 of January 2019, at about 1: PM, according to Yogesh, their employer Mr. Bhagwani handed them (he and Girish) over to an officer of the Liberian National Police at the St.Paul's Bridge for interrogation over the allegation of theft.

In a complaint filed against the acting head of the Association of Indians in Liberia, Yogesh said they were kept at the local police depot for at least 3 hours. Around about 4:00PM, the same day, the men were escorted back to the company's residence by an officer name Musa. They were never charge, neither were they process for court.

Later that evening at about 6:00PM, Yogesh explained, they were taken to the Peekay Enterprises in Clara Town at the offices of the Association of the Indian Community in Liberia by Mr. LalBhagwani, this time with an allegation that the men had stolen from the community.

Yogesh alleged that in the presence of some members of the Association of Indian Community in Liberia including, Mr. Umesh, and the acting President of the AICL, Mr. PradeepBabani, along with a third Indian who they claimed was from the Indian embassy, the trio invited a very huge unidentified Liberian fellow who claimed to be a CID police personnel.

Yogesh alleged that the Liberian who pretended to be a CID officer, acting on the orders of the three Indians, LalBhagwani, Mr. Pradeepand Mr. Umesh, naked and assaulted them severely, leaving them with bruises on their skins.

"My colleague GirishKhanwani even urinated on himself during the assault. We both got sick the next day," he lamented.

"The so-called CID personnel, whom we suspect was not a CID because he never produced any identification, compelled us to make self-incriminating statement under duress with the threat of exerting more bodily harm if we did not", Yogesh lamented.

"The three top Indian businessmen and official of the AICL in Liberia encouraged the so-called CID officer to assault us even further and boasted that neither the Indian consulate, any other Indian bigshot or Liberian officials can do anything to them" Yogesh alleged.

He quoted the three Indian Businessmen to have boasted saying "We know everyone of substance in this town and you guys are at our mercy"

It appears that their boast has some substance, Yogesh said. "We reported the matter to the Indian Consulate on February 18, 2019 that should be seeking the interest of all Indians in Liberia, but so far, they are yet to make any attempt at addressing our plight. We have not even gotten a single invitation for a hearing in this matter. It appears they are all in cohort and careless about the abuse of Indians by Indians in Liberia."

He detailed in his complaint that after they had partially recovered from their nightmare, Mr. LalBhagwani forcibly put them on a plane and sent them back to India against their will.

"When we petitioned him for our balance payment since he had been underpaying us $20,000 instead of the minimum $25.000 rupees or its US Dollars equivalent, he got infuriated and said we can take the matter anywhere we choose, and nothing will be done about it. To date, for the 12 months we worked for K. Lal shopping center, and were underpaid, he owes each of us $60.000 rupees or its US dollars equivalent. We want justice for the physical abuse and mental torture meted out to us, our arrears and severance pay as agreed. We are simply asking for justice and a just pay for a just work and then, we can careless about his job," Yogesh said.

"He can go on brining Indians and exploiting them like a human trafficker, we reported this matter through separate letters written on February 18, 2019 to both the Indian Consulate in Liberia and the Indian Embassy in Abidjan. To date, we are yet to get any response for from either of the two entities. That is why we are constrained to bring this matter to the public in order to shed a light on the abuse of Indians by some so-called big Indian businessmen in Liberia and to seek redress from our plight from Indian and Liberian authorities and the public at large.

This kind of abuse and exploitation must stop before some Indians get killed in Liberia at the hands of some wicked Indians especially the AICL which witnessed the assault and has been dangerously silent on it. This is not to cast a blanket aspersion on all Indian businessmen in the country because we are aware that there are some decent and fair ones. I hope that The Liberian Press and Police will not act like others but get us justice" Yogesh said in his complaint.

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