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Lawyer pushes for Ethiopian couple’s acquittal

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Nat Molomo MASERU — A lawyer representing an Ethiopian couple charged with human trafficking is pushing for acquittal because he says the crown has failed “to make a solid case against them”.
Yoseph Tesfagaber and his wife, Adanech Woldegioregies, are on trial for allegedly trafficking an Ethiopian woman to Lesotho in June 2010. The crown claims the couple recruited, transported and transferred Adanech Agegnehuto. They are alleged to have forced Agegnehuto to work for them.
But their lawyer, Advocate Monaheng Rasekoai, has submitted before Magistrate Molefi Makara that they be acquitted. Rasekoai, who is being assisted by Advocate Motlatsi Rampai, argues that the crown “has failed to make its case against the accused”.
Rasekoai says Agegnehuto stated in clear terms that she came voluntarily to Lesotho under an employment contract.

That contract, says Rasekoai, was secured by her sister who was working as her agent in Ethiopia “together with the agents of both of the accused persons”. The contract stated that Agegnehuto would be paid Ethiopian Birr 1 500 of which Birr 500 was supposed to cater for her travelling costs from Ethiopia. “She accepts that she confirmed that an amount to the tune of Ethiopian Birr 7 000 was paid to her in the first seven months but subsequently she was not paid,” Rasekoai says in his submission for acquittal.
He says Agegnehuto had been properly treated by the couple and there was no evidence that she had been ill-treated in anyway. According to Rasekoai, the couple allowed Agegnehuto to live in the main house “where she had her own bedroom”.
He also points out that there was no evidence of “any harmful acts as contemplated by the law” under which the accused are charged.
“No prima facie case for any element of trafficking and or forced labour and exploitation” has been presented by the crown against the couple. Agegnehuto, he says, “had access to the key of the house and gate, and lived in the house and was paid in accordance with the agreed terms”. The evidence that the couple forced Agegnehuto to work had not been presented to court, he argues.
“If anything there is evidence that she was scolded for not performing her duties”.
He notes that Agegnehuto did not dispute the fact that the couple employed another person “to supplement her incapacity”. During the hearing, crown witness Retšepile Malephane told the court he was employed by the couple as a gardener and guard from October 2010 till December last year.
Malephane said he communicated with the Agenehus by way of sign language as she did not understand English. He said Agegnehuto used to tell him that the Tesfagabers were ill-treating her. The couple once scolded him and Agegnehuto for not doing their work, Malephane said.
Malephane further testified that Agegnehuto had told him that the couple had informed her that they would expel her if they saw her talking to him (Malephane). He said he decided to help Agegnehuto escape after she had told him of the ill-treatment she suffered.
The court postponed the case to November 2, to enable the crown to make heads of argument. Advocate Lechesa Mahao who is appearing for the crown is expected to challenge Rasekoai’s submission.

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