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News : Local Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Bahamas Women’s Watch condemns arrest of 11 Jamaican women
By Noelle Khalila Nicolls
Dec 8, 2015 - 11:57:53 PM

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Photo submitted by Bahamas Women's Watch said to be of some of the Jamaican girls arrested and held for over 36 hours.

(Statement) Bahamas Women’s Watch condemns the unwarranted arrest of 11 Jamaican women on the weekend in a police anti-crime operation at a sport’s lounge in New Providence. Police claimed the women were at the sport’s lounge for the purpose of solicitation for prostitution and suspected they were in breach of the Immigration Act; however, these claims were proven to be completely unfounded. While detained with no charge for two nights, the women were subjected to degrading conditions and contemptuous verbal abuse by officers of the law. It was only after the aggressive intervention of attorneys, women’s rights advocates and the Jamaican Honourary Counsul, Patrick Hanlan that the women were finally released.

When dozens of police officers descended on the sport’s lounge, dressed in face masks, carrying “long guns”, looking like “the death squad”, the women said the police instructed Bahamians to stand to one side and Jamaican women, specifically, to stand to another. Without any due process, the Bahamian men and women were allowed to go while the Jamaican women, some of whom had documentation of their legal right to be inside the country, were violently hauled off.

This is not the first time these tactics – where police summarily dismiss the Bahamians and out rightly discriminate against the Jamaican women – have been reported. During a similar raid in September at two different nightclubs, where 16 Jamaican women were arrested and never charged, police were reported to have segregated the Jamaican women from the Bahamians in a similar fashion. And again at a raid last December. Curiously, these night clubs are never shut down and no men ever detained for prolonged periods. It is common practice, however, for the police to detain groups of immigrant women and then turn them over to the Department of Immigration once they fail to make a prostitution case, knowing full well that Immigration acts without impunity. Bahamas Women’s Watch condemns this manner of arrest as it reflects an outright pattern of discrimination and appalling professional conduct.

The media has recklessly spun the story of Friday’s arrest into fiction, outright calling the women prostitutes and strippers. One news outlet carelessly used a stock photograph of a completely unrelated incident of scantily clad women standing on the street to illustrate the story. The women who were arrested on Friday were, however, paying patrons of the bar. One woman was celebrating her birthday. Two of the others were there having a drink, catching up as one recently came to the Bahamas to visit her friend. They hadn’t been inside the club for more than 15 minutes.

This was a regular night out on the town for a group of women that turned into an epic night of state harassment. None of these women were found to have committed any crimes, and we question whether the police’s suspicions were warranted in the first place.

One of the women detained is a state witness in the active prosecution of a rape case involving an immigration officer. The witness said she fears this incident was an attempt to harass and intimidate her specifically.

To compound the issue, the level of professional misconduct that is claimed by these women while in state custody is astonishing. While in custody, all of the women were not allowed phone calls. They were refused toilet tissue and denied free access to the bathroom. As a result, some of the women urinated on the floor inside the cell, only inches from where they were required to eat and sleep. They slept bundled up together on the floor on cardboard boxes and newspaper. And they were verbally abused. One of the women said the officers were just “dishing out their contempt for Jamaicans”. One of the women, a mother of a small infant, reportedly begged to breastfeed her baby inside the prison cell. Her breasts were so swollen with milk that she was in pain, having been separated from her new born for more than 36 hours.

At the Central Detective Unit, a female officer allegedly threatened the women: “If anyone else gets up without permission I am going to lock you in a cell and shoot you,” recounted one of the women. This was after a few of them had gotten up to make inquiries about calling an attorney and using the bathroom, requests that were denied.

At the Central Police Station, a female officer allegedly chastised another for allowing the women to use the bathroom. “She said: why you keep on coming down here to carry them to the bathroom. They Jamaicans you know.” Another police officer was chastised for bringing blankets to the women. “She said: you bringing in too many sheets now. And the other officer said, ok, sorry, I won’t bring anymore,” recounted one of the women.

This behaviour must be investigated and condemned in the strongest manner by the Commissioner of Police. And we request an urgent meeting with him to discuss how he plans to eradicate the systemic practice of discrimination against vulnerable immigrant women, Jamaicans in particular.

The Bahamas Women’s Watch calls on the Royal Bahamas Police Force and all state agencies, including the Department of Immigration, to cease and desist the reckless and unconstitutional practice of discrimination against Jamaican nationals, and more broadly, immigrant women who suffer the indignity of systemic discrimination because of their nationality. In particular, we note the totally reprehensible trend of misusing the country’s outdated laws on prostitution to carry out acts of state harassment against these vulnerable women.

Other signatories: Marion Bethel, Martha Morgan, Nicolette Bethel, Annick Brennen, Simmone Bowe, Tanya Bevans, Inga Carey, Duran Thompson, Paco Nunez, Terneille Burrows, Patrina Khoo Farquharson, Bernard Farquharson, Sarah Kirkby, Louby Georges, Denise Major-Curry, Jasper Ward, Rise Bahamas, Rosemary Hanna, Carol Narcisse, Carolyn Reynolds, Joan Cummings, Delia Cuffy-Weekes, Dr Duane Sands, Prodesta Moore, Kevon Lighbourne, Loretta Butler-Turner.

About Bahamas Women’s Watch (BWW)  The BWW is an advocacy organisation that brings together a diverse group of women’s rights and human rights advocates to engage the community in a broadened understanding of local and global women’s issues. Using the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Belem do Para Conventions, we endeavour to strengthen the rights of women and to protect the interests and concerns of women and their families to achieve the highest living potential.

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