Colombian prostitutes not illegally arrested, court rules

The court has turned down a request for the release of the passports of six Colombian women, who were handed suspended sentences for prostitution earlier this month, saying that the confiscation of a passport does not amount to detention

The fate of six Colombian prostitutes who were handed suspended sentences earlier this month remains uncertain after habeas corpus proceedings they filed against the courts for refusing to release their passports, leaving them unable to obtain basic services, were dismissed.

Last week, Johana Bermudez Patino, Yeiny Carolina Ayala Moncada, Luisa Fernanda Villalba Monsalve, Maria Valentina Sanchez Quiguanas, Laura Cristina Loaiza Accredo and Daniela Cardona Carrillo pleaded guilty to prostitution-related offences upon arraignment and were handed suspended sentences. A court application for the return of their passports is still pending – in case an appeal is filed by the Attorney General, according to one source.

But the lack of passports meant that the women could not even receive money from their families through Western Union to buy food and had no means of accessing basic services.

Lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Therese Comodini Cachia filed the habeas corpus – an action to remedy illegal arrest – before Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia yesterday afternoon, arguing that the women were effectively being illegally arrested as their movements are restricted.

On the opposing benches, lawyer Maria Francesca Fenech from the Office of the Attorney General, Police Inspector Joseph Busuttil and lawyer Marion Camilleri for the registrar of courts submitted that habeas corpus speaks of a person being physically detained and so was not the correct procedure in the circumstances.

In a decision taken at around 11:30pm last night after a marathon five-hour courtroom session, the magistrate upheld the defence’s submissions.

The court quoted the Baumann vs France judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which had established that the keeping of a passport by the police constituted a breach of freedom of movement in the particular circumstances of that case.

“In the opinion of the court, the confiscation of a passport can constitute a limitation on the movement of the applicants, but it doesn’t’ amount to detention,” ruled the magistrate.

The court said that it didn’t need to examine the issue of whether or not the failure to release the passport was justified or not at law, as it had reached the conclusion that the limitations imposed on the applicants did not amount to detention and consequently does not fall within the parameters of the article of the law on which the requests were based.

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