Government still awaiting report on Jamaican women
The Bahamas government said it does not condone the "abuse of any detainee" as it awaits the findings of an investigation into the arrest of 11 Jamaican women earlier this month.
Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell told the Parliament late Monday that he had already spoken to his Jamaican counterpart, A.J. Nicholson, informing him that "I was not au fait with the facts, but undertook a review of the matter".
Mitchell told legislators that he had since "spoken with the commissioner of police, and the head of section in The Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs that deals with human tights issues is continuing his review of the matter and will in due course make known to the government our findings".
Police said that the 11 women were detained by the Selective Enforcement Team "acting on intelligence descended on a nightclub where they met "the 11 women from Jamaica, whom they suspected to be at that location for the purpose of solicitation for prostitution".
Last Thursday, Jamaica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to Mitchell expressing concerns that the women may have been unfairly profiled for arrest and were not afforded proper treatment while in detention.
Bahamian women's rights groups believe the Jamaicans were victims of misconduct by officers who allegedly discriminated against them based on their nationality.
The police said last week that the women were taken into custody for breach of the Immigration Act and that they also arrested two of the club's managers for Breach of the Business Licence Act.
Mitchell said that there was an allegation of abuse made by two representatives of The Bahamas Crisis Centre about Jamaican women arrested by the police and detained.
"Those untested allegations, without hearing the other side, were published abroad, including in Jamaica," Mitchell said, adding "on this matter, I end by saying that we respect the Vienna Convention and the representatives of foreign governments in this country.
"The government does not condone abuse of any kind of detainees. It is always important however, to hear the other side," he added.
Mitchell also described as "shocking callous" a statement issued by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) regarding the detention of Jamaican Mathew Sewell.
The GBHRA had criticised the Perry Christie government over the continued detention of the Jamaican national "for the better part of a decade".
The GBHRA said that it was also appalled at the response given by Mitchell to the case of "an innocent Jamaican man incarcerated in The Bahamas for the better part of a decade.
"The last stage of Sewell's harrowing ordeal, at the hands of ... (the) Immigration Department, was indeed the result of an error, even after he was declared innocent of all charges by the courts, this poor man continued to be held for another year under an article of the Immigration Act which does not even exist.
"That a man could be held in detention for so long over a mere slip of the pen - with government lawyers fighting tooth and nail to keep him there, even after the error came to light - is indicative of the troubling level of disregard for human liberty displayed by the authorities in The Bahamas today," the GBHRA said in a statement.
But Mitchell said he took issue with characterisation and that "the exposition in this House last week was the simple unvarnished facts.
"The only thing that is shockingly callous is the inability of that organisation to back away from the treachery, falsehoods, exaggerations, slander, libel, with no apology, and they are simply trying to be clever by seeking to change the subject.
"No amount of obfuscation can change the fact that what was said by their spokesman with regard to the case of Mathew Sewell was untrue and false. That is the only fact in issue at this time," Mitchell added.
In another incident, Mitchell also disclosed that three Bahamian men along with 15 Chinese nationals were arrested at Bimini last Wednesday after they were found by police on a vessel which they suspected was heading to Florida.
"They were brought to Nassau and the Bahamian men were charged with assisting in illegal departure. They were granted bail in the sum of US$5,000 each, with one surety. The case was adjourned until March 7, 2016 and transferred to Bimini for trial," Mitchell said, adding that the Chinese nationals were due to leave on Monday for Cuba and then travel on to China.
Mitchell also dismissed allegations that illegal immigrants were being flogged by the authorities.
"It seems to me that this is a story which has taken on a life of its own, largely created by the press to sell newspapers. Having created the story, they then demand that the government denounce the individual for what he said because that individual is a member of the Progressive Liberal Party.
"Let me tell the public what the law is on this matter. Flogging is not a penalty that a court of The Bahamas can impose on illegal migrants in this country. That is the end of that. There is no proposal to make it a penalty.
"I remind the country, however, that flogging is a penalty in the statuTe laws of The Bahamas. It is something that I opposed and fought against. I do not support it. It was removed in 1984 and returned in 1991 and has been pronounced to be constitutional by the Privy Council," Mitchell added.