A 38-year-old Turkish man was jailed by a Seeland-Jura regional court following a trial along with three associates who were found to have lesser culpability, with one of them accused of drug trafficking charges.
The former owner of a brothel in Nidau (canton of Bern) was found guilty of buying women, largely from Romania, and forcing them into prostitution, the court heard earlier, the ATS news agency reported.
The women — around 45 were involved — were forced either to work in the man’s house of ill repute or in bars around German-speaking Switzerland during a period between 2004 and 2007.
The women worked up to 11 hours a day, six or seven days a week, the prosecutor said, ATS reported.
Entering Switzerland as tourists, they were kept under constant surveillance by the brothel owner’s associates.
The owner also resorted to violence, threatening and hitting some of the women to instil a climate of terror, the prosecutor said.
The convicted man, who first came to Switzerland as an asylum seeker at the age of 20, denied the charges, ATS said.
He maintained that his female employees had exercised their activities “with pleasure” and that he did not have enough places to accommodate all the applicants who wanted to work for him.
The Turk was arrested in 2007 after a total of 200 police officers took part in an operation to counter human trafficking in Nidau and in Tuggen in the canton of Schwyz.
The prosecutor sought a ten-year jail term against him.
The federal government has announced plans to crack down on such human trafficking, although support groups say not enough funding is made available to help victims.
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Every year, an assistance centre for human trafficking victims in Zurich aids 200 people, most of them women.
Government funding to help integrate former prostitutes into society is insufficient, say groups such as Amnesty International Switzerland and the Swiss organization for refugee aid.
A recent move to raise the age of legal prostitution from 16 to 18 was welcomed after Switzerland faced international pressure over the issue.