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Durban - Jailed for a week, eight Chinese citizens and a Malawian were freed on Wednesday after the State did an about-turn and released them on warning, having initially opposed their bail application in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court.
Seven were charged for working at the Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing factory in Mkondeni when their permits stated they worked elsewhere and one was charged for being in the country without a permit or passport.
The Malawian was charged because his passport was allegedly not in order.
After cross-examination of investigating officer, Lieutenant Melanie Otto, who in the end conceded the Chinese should not be in jail, the prosecutor asked that the matter stand down. When court resumed, she said the State was no longer opposed to bail, they could be released on warning.
Questioned by advocate Brad Osborne, Otto was informed that the offences attracted a fine with the option of imprisonment, yet the State was opposed to bail. She could not dispute that the Chinese were arrested without their rights explained as there was no interpreter present and they could not speak English.
Otto could also not disagree that the Chinese were fulfilling a Chinese company’s management contract with the tobacco factory, to operate and service equipment which had the “blessing of the Department of Trade and Industry and Sars”.
Neither could she dispute that Home Affairs officials had entered the incorrect information on the permits.
Osborne told Otto that Home Affairs officials went to the factory in August and undertook to rectify the problem. Despite this, the factory was raided to search for “contraband and human trafficking.
“Twenty-five people stormed the premises for passports. Property was damaged and people were manhandled. The officials had refused to identify themselves,” said Osborne.
The arrests of the Chinese resulted in the factory shutting down as they were the only ones who could operate the machinery and had been training 60 locals. These locals on Wednesday demonstrated outside court, demanding the release of the Chinese. They were angry that they had no work or money because of the arrests.
The accused are Hao Qian, 24, Heping Yang, 53, Lanxin Wei, 58, Xiaolin Quo, 50, Huajun Xie, 56, Cuiying Liu, 61, Baomirg Zhao, 56, Yamina Wang, 40, and Eric Arafi, 35.