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Summary of latest news and events in Banská Bystrica, Bratislava, Košice and Trnava.
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Summary of latest news and events in Banská Bystrica, Bratislava, Košice and Trnava.
We would like to attract your attention to the case of 45 men - mostly third country nationals from Moldova and Ukraine, who were arrested on 8th October 2019 in the industrial hall used for illegal cigarette production, in Veľké Kostoľany, district of Piešťany, in the Slovak Republic. We had the opportunity to study anonymous documents from their files, namely transcripts from interrogations of 6 arrested men from Moldova, the Resolution of the Criminal Office of the Financial Administration of the Slovak Republic on the accusation of all 45 arrested persons, and the Order of the District Court of Trnava on remand, by which 11 accused people were taken into custody. Currently, all 45 foreigners are being prosecuted for the commitment of the crime of “Breach of Regulations Governing State Technical Measures for Labelling Goods” (in accordance with § 279 (1), (2) c) and (3) a) of the Criminal Code; if convicted, they risk imprisonment for up to 8 years). We hold the legal opinion that the facts of the case give rise to reasonable suspicion that the crime of trafficking on human beings (hereinafter “THB”) was committed, on a greater number of people, most probably by an organized criminal group, which appears to have been committing these illegal activities (including THB) systematically and on long-term basis, taking advantage of the vulnerable position of unemployed people from the war-torn region of Donetsk in Ukraine and from the poor regions of Moldova, including exceptionally vulnerable two young adults. We have elaborated a detailed legal statement, addressed to the law enforcement authorities, in which we request the competent state authorities to immediately start ex officio criminal proceedings for the suspected offence of THB. People abused for the illegal cigarette production should be, in our view, treated primarily as victims, and not as criminals. In our legal statement, addressed to the responsible authorities on Tuesday 4th December 2019, we emphasize the relevant legal obligations of the Slovak Republic in relation to the fight against THB (arising in particular from Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, and the 2011/36/EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims). We have also pointed out to the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code, above all § 179 - merits of the crime of THB, and § 40 - Waiver of Punishment in case of THB victims forced to commit a minor offence). In accordance with the international law, THB represents a serious criminal offence, committed mostly in the framework of an organized crime, and a serious violation of the human rights. Fight against THB is one of the priorities of the European Union; a victim of THB should be provided with help and support, as soon as the competent authorities have a reasonable-grounds indication for believing that the person might have been subjected to an offence of THB. The testimonies of the 6 accused foreigners, which we had a chance to examine, without any doubt confirm that almost all indicators suggesting to THB are fulfilled in the present case. That is why we urge the Slovak law enforcement authorities to fully address the investigation of the THB suspicion without any more delay. The following indicators for THB can be concluded from the above-mentioned statements: - recruitment over Internet using lies - the promise of legal work and high earnings, - the journey to Slovakia was done in a doubtful way - moving people from car to car (or microbus), everything organized by unknown people who introduced themselves only by their first names, - after arrival to Slovakia obligation to put on dark glasses so that THB victims did not know where they were going, - withdrawal of passports on the pretext of preparing employment contracts, - removal of mobile phones (allegedly because there is no signal or Internet in the production hall), - impossibility to leave the production hall (living and eating directly in the hall, rooms without windows, respectively windows covered with black foil), - complete absence of contact with the outside world and home, - dubious employment contracts in Russian / Ukrainian languages with a company based in Ukraine, - exploiting working conditions (working 12 hours a day in heat up to 35 degrees, conditions contrary to the Labor Code), - impossibility to stop working when a person decided to do so (some wanted to leave, they were told that was possible only after they had found a replacement for them and that they would not get a salary if they did not work for a complete month), - the money was not paid to anyone (of those 6 testimonies we have examined), - some of the victims even did not know they were in Slovakia. One young boy (19 years old) was a student, it was his first work experience, he just wanted a one-month job, he was supposed to be back to school, and instead, he has been in custody for almost two months deprived of his liberty. Recruitment shows signs of abuse of the lack of knowledge and the lack of experience of a vulnerable person due to his young age, and abuse of poor unemployed people who need to provide for their families and are unable to find work at home. Victims were unaware of the illegality of cigarette production, some asked organizers why cigarettes do not have trademarks, they were told that they were goods for “duty free shops”. In our view, the merits of the THB crime are fulfilled in the present case by: - victims were lured, transported, kept, handed over and taken over, - by means of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of the position of vulnerability, restriction of personal freedom, and other forms of coercion, - even if with a consent, which is rendered irrelevant by the use of above mentioned means, - for the purpose of abuse for committing crime. Resolution on accusation points out to the object of the criminal offence according to § 279 of the Criminal Code, which is “the interest of the Slovak Republic in having control over goods subject to consumer tax”. We do not dispute this state’s interest, but we believe that the priority of the state governed by a rule of law, guaranteeing human rights for everyone in its territory and under its jurisdiction, should be the state's interest in the protection of every man and their fundamental human rights, irrespective of the country of origin or his/her legal or social status. There is no doubt that in this case the, offence under § 279 of the Criminal Code was committed, but its perpetrators, who are most likely at the same time to be perpetrators of the THB offence, seem to continue to be free, and presumed THB victims are exposed to criminal prosecution and deprivation of their liberty, which is unacceptable. In this case, it seems that THB victims are currently being criminalized instead of being protected. The intention of the accused to enrich themselves from committing crime has not been sustained or proven in our legal opinion. The accused, as they themselves testified, came to Slovakia for the purpose of legal work for the promised wage (the wage which was promised to them for legal work cannot be described as “property benefit”). We refer to Art. 8 of the above mentioned Directive, under which Member States are entitled not to prosecute or impose penalties on victims of THB for their involvement in a criminal offence, if they have been compelled to commit that criminal offence in direct connection with the fact that the THB was committed and they were victims of it. We strongly urge law enforcement and courts to investigate the case in a responsible, conscientious and expeditious manner, as a matter of priority, as a case of trafficking in human beings. We note that we did not have the opportunity to study the entire file or the documents of all the accused ones, and therefore we cannot exclude that the accused may include persons who are not victims but perpetrators, respectively co-perpetrators of the crime of THB and of an offence under § 279 of the Criminal Code. Legal team of the Human Rights League Contact for media: Barbora Meššová, Director of HRL (+421 918 857 715, email@example.com)