DURBAN - The family of Durban-born Tyron Coetzee who has been sentenced to death this week for drug trafficking, after being arrested in Vietnam in 2016, have pegged their hopes on diplomatic efforts. Should he lose his appeal he has very little time to live.
The family are banking on the South African government asking Vietnam to arrange a prison term for Coetzee.
“Our greatest concern right now is the unpredictability and time that we have should the appeal fail,” his elder brother, Elton, told the Independent on Saturday from Gauteng, where the family moved when Tyron, 34, was a child.
“Some Southeast Asian countries have been known to execute within days after the appeal and we cannot afford to lose any time in this regard,” said Elton.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) has only commented that Coetzee has been provided consular services and his case was being monitored.
However, Elton said the department had told the family by phone that it had already laid the framework in its request for a lesser sentence.
“We are concerned that its only a consideration at this time and have other serious questions and concerns which we need to understand urgently,” said Elton. “The final decision, however, still only rests with the Vietnamese authorities.”
The family strongly believes Coetzee was set up as a decoy to be used with the sole purpose of being arrested, rather than to be a drug mule and could be a victim of human trafficking.
Elton said Vietnamese authorities knew who Coetzee was through a tip-off before he even landed in the country.
“Tyron had never travelled outside South Africa before. He had only obtained his passport a few months prior to the trip. His airline ticket was purchased by someone else and (he) was clearly under severe distress before he left.”
He recalled that in South Africa about six months before his arrest Coetzee was badly beaten up.
“We never did get to know the circumstances. He would also be beaten up on numerous occasions after that. We suspect this is the same group of people that introduced him to drugs and that he possibly owed them money.”
Elton said his brother may have believed that he had no reasonable alternative but to “submit to what was planned, induced or perhaps even offered to him as an alternative for his predicament and compromising situation”.
“Until this possible scenario is comprehensively explored, the very likely possibility remains that he was in fact a victim of human trafficking exploited for criminal purposes. This modus operandi is well known to be used by Nigerian transnational drug syndicates.
“For the sake of justice, we desperately require that Dirco investigates these unexplored possibilities in collaboration with the Vietnamese authorities.”
Elton said his brother had always struggled to survive financially and had been working at nightclubs as a bouncer.
He said he had a caring and compassionate demeanour but a low self-esteem.
“He saw himself as a failure (and) never finished school.”
Elton said the family was in the dark about how he had been taking his ordeal.
“We’ve had no contact with him since his incarceration two years ago and not since his sentencing.”
Elton said the South African Embassy in Hanoi had visited him and were present at both of his hearings but did not represent him.
He said the Vietnamese government had not allowed the family any visits or direct contact via, phone, email or Skype.