Engineers taste freedom

2013-09-19 00:00

A TALE of human rights abuses was presented by the defence representing eight Chinese engineers and one Malawian who were detained a week ago during a raid at Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing in Mkondeni.

All nine were yesterday released on warning by magistrate Bessie Du Preez after the state withdrew its opposition to bail after the investigating officer conceded that she could not support their continued detention if defence allegations were correct.

The accused’s numerous colleagues — who were also out of work as a result of their detention — danced and sang for joy.

They joyfully hugged, kissed and carried the former detainees to waiting transport following their release.

Managing director of Amalgamated Tobacco Yusuf Kajee told The Witness he was going to treat the nine employees to a “holiday at Durban or Umhlanga” for a few days to make up for their ordeal.

“We will be back in business by next Friday I should think,” he said.

He, however, said he was concerned by “ongoing harrassment” at the factory, which employs 95 people. He said that police had again gone there yesterday allegedly in search of stolen cars. When his attorney arrived, the police immediately left.

Kajee also confirmed that he has already instructed his lawyers and advocate Brad Osborne to proceed with civil action against those responsible for the violation of his employee’s rights.

These were detailed by Osborne during cross examination of investigating officer Lieutenant Melanie Otto, who said she was not aware of any of them.

Otto said she wasn’t present when the nine accused were arrested and detained last Wednesday, September 11.

Otto said the only information she had in the police docket, which caused her to oppose bail, was that it was alleged that the accused were illegal immigrants.

Osborne said the Chinese accused were in fact engineers employed by a company in China, Tianjin Pengbo Engineering Ltd, and were fulfilling a management contract to operate and service equipment at the Tobacco factory in Portland Road, Mkondeni. This was with the blessing of the Department of Trade and Industry and SA Revenue Services.

Osborne said what had happened was that Home Affairs had entered incorrect information on their permits relating to their employers, which amounted to an “administrative bungle”.

This had already come to the attention of officials during an inspection on August 26, following which Home Affairs undertook to rectify the problems with the permits.

“Senior immigration officials assured the applicants no one would be arrested and the documents would be sorted out,” he said.

Notwithstanding this, on September 11 Home Affairs obtained a search warrant that gave powers of search and seizure to only one individual.

“Yet more than 25 people stormed the premises, including the task force. Property was damaged and people were manhandled to say the least. Officials refused to identify themselves or indicate what department they were from,” he said

Osborne said it has transpired that intelligence agents from the National Crime Intelligence and Organised Crime units were also there “all hiding behind the immigration warrant” to conduct a search.

“It appears they were searching for contraband and evidence of human trafficking.”

Osborne suggested to Otto that after their detention the accused’s rights were explained to them in English, which they don’t understand, and they also had to sign documents without being assisted by a Chinese interpreter.

On top of that they were not brought to court within 48 hours as required by law, but appeared for the first time yesterday, a week after their arrest.

Meanwhile, attorney Farouk Jasat yesterday sent a letter to President Jacob Zuma and Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor. It was copied to the consul-general of the People’s Republic of China, Diao Mingsheng.

In it, Jasat said the officials conducting the raid on the factory “acted very similarly to Hitler’s brown shirts”.

“They brought along armed task force members, for reasons which we cannot fathom … and the search was conducted in chaotic conditions leading to property damage.”

Jasat asked the president and minister to intervene in the matter and to conduct an investigation into the background and the manner in which officials had handled the matter.

The case has been postponed until January 28 next year pending further investigations.

The accused are: Yamina Wang (40), Hao Qian (24), Heping Yang (53), Lanxin Wei (58), Xialin Guo (50), Huajun Xie (56), Guiying Liu (61), Baoming Zhao (56) and Malawian Eric Arafi (35).

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