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Closer look at rescue of Vietnamese women from Ghana brothel

Friday, March 28, 2014, 20:45 GMT+7
Closer look at rescue of Vietnamese women from Ghana brothel
Li Tian Ping (2nd right), a Chinese brothel owner, is seen being arrested during a police raid on her hideout in Tema, Ghana, in mid-March 2014.

A Ghanaian investigative journalist has shed light on the activities of a sex slave ring in Ghana, which was run by two Chinese human traffickers and involved six Vietnamese women aged 29 to 38, who were rescued by local police earlier this month.

The women were forced to watch porn in order to serve customers, even when they had a period.

Ghanaian police saved the six from their bondage around mid-March, after the women had been staying in the African country for nine months, thanks to information provided by multimedia journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas.

Anas, who focuses on issues of human rights and anti-corruption in Ghana, spent some five months as an undercover reporter to carry out his surveillance of two Chinese-run brothels in western Ghana’s Tema and Takoradi coastal cities following an intelligence tip-off from Interpol last November.

“I do a lot of human rights stories. As a journalist, I'm encouraged to expose the bad guys and help the victims at all times,” Anas told Tuoitrenews in a recent email interview.

Anas told the story of six Vietnamese women who were lured by an unidentified fellow countrywoman who promised to offer them well-paid jobs in factories and restaurants in the United States and Norway, but who instead brought them to Ghana where they ended up working in prostitution rings and living in bondage.

Torture, death threats

The six Vietnamese victims had their passports and travel documents seized upon arrival at the Kotoka International Airport in the Ghanaian capital city of Accra in June last year, according to Ghanaian media.

They were soon sold to a Chinese woman, Li Tian Ping, who ran a brothel in Tema in the country’s western region. In an initial Tuoitrenews report, Li Tian Ping was referred to as a man under the name Tian Ping.

The women lived in a 12-bedroom apartment and were forced to offer sexual services to men of various nationalities.

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A 12-bedroom apartment in Tema where the six Vietnamese were forced to stay. Photo coutersy of A. Anas

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Ghanian police search Tian Ping's hideout during their raid in mid-March 2014. Photo coutersy of A. Anas

Anas said that the Vietnamese women were subject to brutal physical abuse in the hands of Li Tian Ping whenever they refused to satisfy their clients for any reason.

The undercover journalist elaborated that there was a general rule in the brothel that at any time of the day, if a client desired, any girl of his choice had to serve him, even if she was on her period.

“Not even the fact that we had our period was enough of an excuse not to be ready for our numerous clients,” the rescued women told The New Crusading Guide, where Anas works, in an interview.

“The last time I told [Li] I was in my menses she asked me to remove my panties she took out the pad and inspected it before giving it back to me. Sometimes the clients even have pity on us,” a rescued woman told the Guide.

Sometimes the victims faced death threats when they let their “masters” down. “When they realize that the physical assault was not bringing the desired results of getting us to be quiet, they began to threaten us with death saying that they have nothing to lose whiles our families would never set eyes on us again,” one traumatized girl was quoted as saying.

They faced the fact that they might never escape bondage because their passports would only be released once they made enough money to repay the full cost of the journey from Vietnam to Ghana.

After two and a half months of protest, the six Vietnamese women were sold to a Chinese man, Huang Se Hui, owner of Jang Mi guesthouse in Takoradi, where the sexual exploitation continued.

This Chinese man was previously reported to be Hwan Se Hui in the first article on this sex ring, due to language transcription differences.

The women revealed that at Jang Mi, they were forced to watch pornographic movies in order to learn what to do with their clients.

When the women felt sick, they were given an unidentified mixture of Chinese drugs by the traffickers.

The six were made to use fake names with their clients: Hung (whose real age is 32), Bian (29), Anh (35), Hoa (31), Thi (38), and Mai (38).

Kingpins arrested

After collecting enough evidence to prove that the Vietnamese women were being sexually exploited at Jang Mi guesthouse, Anas set out to unmask the suspected Chinese traffickers.

“My undercover investigations often take long. It requires patience and professionalism. You don't want to get anything wrong, so I go in with this in mind at all times,” Anas told Tuoitrenews.

“For this story, there were no major challenges. What I needed to get right was the number of trafficked women and the right timing to meet both traffickers and trafficked at the same time. And that's what took time,” he said. 

On March 5 of this year, Anas disguised himself as an American named John Sullivan, saying he worked at a new oil rig in Takoradi.

With a friend, he visited Jang Mi guesthouse to demand the services of two Vietnamese women.

Huang sat them down and began listing the numerous services the women could offer the duo.

“Girls are active, if it’s about getting sexually satisfied, be rest assured, they can withstand every weather,” the Chinese man assured them. “You only part away with a hundred dollars per hour and they are yours. Whether you want to have them here or take them to a different location is for you to decide.”

Anas and his friend paid Huang and took the two women to a hotel nearby where a police team was waiting.

When a woman stepped out of the bathroom, preparing to serve her client, the police officers appeared.

On March 12 the police raided Jang Mi guesthouse where they arrested Huang and rescued the four other Vietnamese women thanks to tip-offs from Anas.

Around 10 days after the Takoradi raid, Anas led the police to a building in Tema Community 9 where Li, who along with her husband was believed to be the mastermind of the Vietnamese trafficking ring, was hiding.

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Suspected human trafficker Li Tian Ping. Photo coutersy of A. Anas

When the police arrived, all of the gates to her hideout were locked from the inside. As the police broke into the house, the kingpin pushed one Chinese girl, another victim of the ring, downstairs to divert their attention.

She jumped from the top floor of the house onto a nearby roof and unfortunately sustained an injury to her leg. 

Neighbors saw her and informed the police. After her arrest, Anas took the police to the exact room where the traffickers stayed and other rooms they used for their sexual exploitation business.

Police in Ghana are still hunting for Li’s spouse.

Wishing to be repatriated

The six rescued Vietnamese victims said they lived and worked for Li and were sexually exploited over a period of time before she finally passed them on to Huang at Jang Mi guesthouse.

S. Kove-Seyram, assistant to Anas Aremeyaw Anas, told Tuoitrenews that the women are very happy to be free from their traffickers and have expressed willingness to return home and reunite with their families.

However, Seyram said he is unable to provide further details because of confidentiality and their personal security.

Reached by Tuoitrenews by phone on Tuesday, Dang Quoc Dung, an official at the Vietnamese Embassy in Nigeria who is also in charge of Ghana, said the six victims, most of them from the Mekong Delta region in southern Vietnam, are now in good physical and mental health conditions and are protected 24/7 by local police at a hotel based in Accra.

Dung added that the Vietnamese embassy has called on overseas Vietnamese in Ghana to support the victims, adding that the women will be brought home when the trial of the two suspected Chinese traffickers is finished.

The New Crusading Guide said the International Organization on Migration (IOM) is in the process of purchasing tickets for the women to return to Vietnam.

According to a March 21 report in the Daily Guide, the most popular newspaper in Ghana, the two Chinese nationals Huang Se Hui, 49, and Li Tian Ping, 29, had been arraigned before a circuit court for alleged human trafficking in Accra.

The duo is facing seven counts of human trafficking, it said. However, the accused persons, speaking through an interpreter, denied all charges in court.

The court later granted them bail in the sum of GH¢20,000 (US$14,500) with four Ghanaian sureties each, to reappear on April 15.

The court also ordered them to deposit their passports at the registry of the court until the case has closed.

Trung Pham

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