Drama over ‘trafficked’ Senegalese women

Drama over ‘trafficked’ Senegalese women

Rapelang Mosae

MASERU

A Senegalese man, Diop Abdoulaye, is under investigation by Lesotho authorities for allegedly trafficking two Senegalese women.

Abdoulaye, who has told the police that he is a naturalised South African citizen, has however now turned the tables against the Lesotho police. He is now suing the police for keeping the two women.

This week, Abdoulaye asked High Court judge Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane to order the police to release the women.

Abdoulaye filed an urgent habeas corpus application. He claims the police have denied him access to the two women. He also claims that he is related to the women. He says one of them is his sister while the other is his sister-in-law.

However, the police told Justice Hlajoane that Abdoulaye himself was a suspect in the matter.

Police Inspector Beleme Moerane, an investigating officer of the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), told the court that the women landed at Moshoeshoe I International Airport on June 1 and when the police asked them where they were going they failed to give them a satisfactory answer.

The police discovered that the women spoke a language that they did not know and that they could not speak English or French.

Moerane told the High Court that what posed as red flags for his colleagues stationed at the airport were a number of factors.

He said the letter inviting the two women to Lesotho did not bear a clear address and the person who went to meet them was not the one referred to in the letter.

Moerane also said there were two different letters with the same subject matter but indicating different names.

He said the police arrested the person who went to meet the women while they took them for safekeeping at a secret place.

During interrogation, Moerane said, it was discovered that the man, identified only as Peter, was not the one who had invited the women and that he was a South African.

The letter had mentioned the names of a Mosotho man, Lehlohonolo Charles Lesole, who is not a South African.

He said Peter, after giving a litany of explanations regarding his connections with the women, distanced himself from the letter that invited them to Lesotho.

At that time, Moerane decided to call a number that appeared in the letter and to his surprise the phone rang in Peter’s trouser pocket.

Moerane also said this was when they concluded that they were dealing with a possible case of human trafficking.

They then decided to hold the two girls to prevent a possible crime from occurring as is mandated by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011.

Moerane also testified that Peter explained to him that the two women had applied for visas to South Africa while still in Senegal but their application was denied. They then opted to come to Lesotho with the intention to apply afresh.

He indicated that it was undesirable to allow Lesotho to be used as a transit to enter South Africa, especially in the circumstances where a possible crime was looming.

During the questioning, Peter allegedly gave Moerane his phone and asked him to call a person he claimed was the one who had invited the women to Lesotho.

Moerabne stated before court that the mobile number was saved as “Papa small shop”. However, when he called the owner of the phone denied that he was “Papa Small Shop” saying his name was Diop, who was later known as Diop Abdoulaye.

Abdoulaye allegedly gave varying explanations including that he was Senegalese but had acquired South African citizenship.

He further claimed he was a brother-in-law to one of the women while the other was his sister.

Abdoulaye is said to have told the police that his sister was going to school in South Africa and had come to Lesotho to learn English.

Moerane however told the court that this explanation further made him believe that this was a possible case of human trafficking saying that to him this indicated that the women would be taught English while their captors sought ways to exploit them.

Moerane said Abdoulaye promised to come to Lesotho to explain his relationship with the women but to his dismay instead of visiting the police to explain the matter he had now filed the habeas corpus application.

“The girls are not detainees, they are victims kept in a government guarded safe-house with all amenities provided by government,” Moerane said.

He declined to disclose the location where the women are being kept indicating that it could pose a danger to the women and other future victims.

Moerane said while they were quizzing Peter, a man who described himself as a local businessman of Senegalese origin but now a naturalized Mosotho came and asked to see the women.

He said this man, who is known as Seme, also said he has a duty to protect the welfare of Senegalese who come to Lesotho. Seme is not an official of the government of Senegal.

Seme is also not an official agent of the Senegalese embassy to Lesotho, which is based in Pretoria, and neither is he officially recognised by the Lesotho government as a representative of the people of Senegal.

Moerane said they denied him access to the women.

Surprisingly, on Tuesday during the habeas corpus hearing Seme entered the court and Abdoulaye’s lawyer Nonny Da Silva-Manyokole told the court that Seme could speak the women’s language, Wolof, and therefore could be used as an interpreter.

Justice Hlajoane made him take an oath and was used to interpret.

The state’s lawyers, Advovates Sekati and Tau did not object.

Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe later told thepost that there is no reason to worry because the judge “obviously made the decision to allow him to be the interpreter after considering all factors”.

Makhethe said there is no fear that Seme could have misled the court while interpreting because “he took an oath before he was given that job”.

Tšokolo Makhethe Attorney GeneralHe however said he was not aware of the case and therefore did not know that Seme had an interest in it.

The police are currently in the process of locating the family of the two women so they can go back to Senegal.

Moerane said the process involves contacting Senegal Interpol to locate their relatives and then coming to Lesotho to repatriate them back to their families.

The case continues today.

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