Lebanese Human Trafficker Appears In Court, Denies All Charges Leveled Against Him

Aja Debs, the accused who is said to be the ring leader in the trafficking of Liberian girls in Lebanon over the weekend appeared in court at the 11th Judicial Circuit in Tubmanburg, Bomi County to answer to charges of human trafficking, rape, smuggling amongst others leveled against them by the prosecutor.

Aja Debs, Tamba Gibson and Bashir Lakis have been charged by the Government of Liberia for allegedly trafficking 15 Liberian girls to Lebanon to work under inhumane conditions. Tamba Gibson and Bashir Lakis have been charged in absentia—their whereabouts are unknown.

In late 2014, 15 Liberian girls in Lebanon complained that their employers were subjecting them to inhumane treatment and had seized their travel documents to prevent them from escaping. The cries of the stranded girls, which reverberated around the country, led to a public outcry against the government with citizens calling on the leadership of the country to step in and save the day.

Following the incessant outcries and blame game, President Sirleaf dispatched Labor Minister Neto Lighe and Police Director Chris Massaquoi to ascertain and liase with their Lebanese counterparts on ways to have the girls brought back without a hurdle and to ensure those responsible face the full weight of the law. The girls have accordingly been brought home, and the trial for justice resumes today in Tubmanburg.

During deliberations last Thursday in Tubmanburg, defense counsels, Atty. Arthur Johnson and Cllr. Cooper Kruah, objected to the sight of armed officers in the court on grounds that the presence of the men was intimidating their client and by extension the trial. According to the defense team of the lone suspect, they have received credible information that the presence of the armed men on the grounds of the court is an intimidation tactic deployed by the prosecution to tilt the case in favor of the state.

“Defense counsel says reliable sources have told us that the Prosecution is bent on intimidating lawyers, defendant, court staff and jurors, which is not healthy for the trial. This case is not an armed robbery case so there is no need for the heavy presence of security armed officers in court,” The defense said. In counter argument the prosecution, represented by Atty. David Woah, defended their action saying the presence of the officers is not to intimidate the court neither the jurors.

“These officers are not scattered but assigned at a specific place where the witnesses are kept and therefore in no way they are interfering with the proceeding as alleged by the defense counsel and there is no violation or abuse carry on by the officers,” he said. The prosecution added that the 15 girls who are to serve as witnesses need protection day and night to avoid interference and secure their confidence in the ongoing trial. The prosecution furthered that the submission made by the defense is fabricated and the timing intended to halt the proceeding of the case.

“The Police have made no visit to the locality where the jurors are assigned and Bomi County has been vulnerable with respect to the numbers of Police officers assigned for protection,” he argued. Said the Atty Woah: “prosecution is concerned that from the remarks made by the defense team that they have information from the jurors that they have been threatened and intimidated is proof that the defense is in contact with the jury to be panel.”

The judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit, Bomi Circuit Court will today determine if the presence of arm officers are intimidating the ongoing trial involving several Liberian girls who were trafficked to Lebanon. The ruling of the judge William Sando followed a submission by the Prosecution Counsel who prayed the court to order an investigation to ascertain how the information was obtained. The Prosecution prays the court to investigate so as to ascertain how the information was obtained and its authentication.

The defense lawyers also pressed the court to allow the defendant be taken from his cell in Bomi and transfer to the Monrovia Central Prison for an easy access to better medical attention. According to the defense team, Debs suffer from hypertension and liver disease. The defense lawyers further asked the court to allow Debs transfer to a new prison cell where he would remain and appear daily in court for the case.

However, the lawyers’ request was denied when the prosecution requested Judge William Sando to deny the request on grounds that Debs, who is on trial for criminal offences, should not be given preferential treatment from other detainees. Prosecution lawyers argued that there are qualified medical practitioners in Bomi County that can handle Debs’ health condition.

Since the start of the case, the parties have selected 11 of the 15 jurors needed to decide the fate of the defendant. The empanelled jury is to avoid coming into contact with either of the parties. The case was re-assigned to today, at which time the parties will be able to complete the selection of the 15 member panel that will decide the outcome of the case.

During the trial, the courtroom lack order as sheriffs and bailiffs seem ignorant about courtroom proceedings. Courtroom staff randomly moves about in court without the authorization of the judge.

Culled  from FPA

 

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