The Mozambican government favours stiffer penalties for criminals found guilty of trafficking in people, Justice Minister Benvinda Levi said Thursday.
Levi was speaking at a parliamentary hearing organised by several of the working commissions of the country’s parliament on bills presented by the government on child protection and on human trafficking.
The hearing took place few days after the testimony about the trafficking in minors was presented on Mozambique Television (TVM) by two teenagers rescued from a brothel in South Africa.
The parliament’s Legal Affairs, Social Affairs and Defence and Public Order Commissions are drawing up written opinions on the bills with the assistance of a technical team from the justice ministry.
The bills will be debated on the floor of the assembly in the second week of April.
The government bill envisaged prison terms of between eight and 12 years for trafficking in people, but at the hearing Antonio Frangoulis of the ruling Frelimo Party, argued that there should be stiffer penalties for the worst forms of trafficking.
He thought it wrong to apply the same penalty for trafficking women to take part in pornographic films and trafficking people who would be murdered for the removal of their genitals (used in grisly witchcraft rituals).
The bill, as it stands, does not make this differentiation and only recognises a single crime of human trafficking.
Levi accepted the proposal for harsher penalties and also a suggestion by Maximo Dias, of the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition, that people suspected of human trafficking should not be eligible for bail or other forms of provisional freedom.
“Those suspected of human trafficking should be kept in jail until their trial,” declared Dias.
Both Levi and Dias seem to have forgotten that in February 2000 the Supreme Court ruled there could be no such thing as a crime for which suspects could never be eligible for bail.
The Supreme Court thus struck down as unconstitutional, article 291 in the penal procedural code, which states that people accused of serious crimes punishable by lengthy prison sentences do not qualify for bail.
This article preceded the 1990 constitution, which stipulates that accused persons are innocent until proven guilty, therefore preventive detention is the exception, not the rule.
The Court’s 2000 ruling argued that, to hold a suspect in pre-trial detention, the offence must be serious, there must be reasonable indication that the suspect is guilty, and there must be strong grounds for not granting provisional freedom.
Such grounds would include fear the suspect might abscond, the possibility that he would interfere with the investigations (by intimidating witnesses, for example), among others.