Ashley Oosthuizen in isolation for two months in Thailand jail

Ashley Oosthuizen, who has been jailed as a drug mule, is in isolation in the Thailand prison and has been unable to speak with anyone for the past two months. Picture: Facebook

Ashley Oosthuizen, who has been jailed as a drug mule, is in isolation in the Thailand prison and has been unable to speak with anyone for the past two months. Picture: Facebook

Published May 7, 2022


Cape Town - Ashley Oosthuizen, accused of being a drug mule, is in isolation in the Thailand prison where she is being detained and has been unable to speak with anyone for the past two months.

International experts, who have researched and interviewed drug mules, said younger women who were financially vulnerable could be targeted for the drug mule industry. They said that South Africa was the cornerstone for the illegal exchange of drugs as it was accessible via road or air whether with Europe or African countries.

In a statement to the Weekend Argus her family said: “Due to a few people infected with Covid-19, all inmates were quarantined. No one was allowed any form of outside communication. By the grace of God, our daughter was not affected at all and is still in good health and high spirits. We are able to speak with her once a month for 10 minutes.”

A week ago, Oosthuizen’s support Facebook page, which was updated by an administrator who is in contact with her family, said the young woman is in isolation due to the pandemic.

The post on the Facebook page, A Voice for Ashley Oosthuizen, said: “The past few weeks there has been a decrease in the information stream.

“We do know that Ashley is currently in isolation and has not yet been able to speak with anyone outside the prison for more than two months now. This has not discouraged us, it has rather fuelled an initiative we cannot wait to share with you!

“Keep your eyes open because in the next few weeks we’ll be sharing new ways how you can help Ashley from afar, and hopefully a couple fellow South Africans as well.”

She previously indicated that the family was awaiting the outcome of the appeal and that they had placed their faith in God and did not want to say much publicly, which could impact the case.

Oosthuizen from George made headlines earlier this year after it was revealed that she was one of many South African women imprisoned in a foreign prison for alleged drug trafficking charges.

Her story went viral after her former boyfriend, Tristan Nettles via Facebook made a full confession, and sent this to the George Herald where he admitted to being an international drug trafficker, who had learnt the crime trade as a young child. Nettles is now living in the United States.

Oosthuizen was employed as a kindergarten teacher on Koh Samui Island after leaving her home in George in 2018 and met Nettles, who was an American teacher.

Oosthuizen had lost her job and Nettles offered her a position at a restaurant called Hot Biscuit where she designed the branding for the business.

Oosthuizen claimed she accepted a package by a delivery man on behalf of someone else and this was filled with 250grams of MDMA and was arrested.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has said that there are more than 790 South African citizens in prisons around the world, 71 percent of which are drug-related offences.

Dirco national spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele has said they cannot comment on any latest developments but are aware of the situation.

“Out of respect for individuals and families of people arrested outside of the borders, we do not provide details to the media but to families,” he said.

“Dirco is aware of the situation.”

Jason Eligh is a Senior Expert with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

He has researched and interviewed drug mules and has knowledge of the trade internationally, and specifically in regard to South Africa and East Africa. He said younger women, particularly those who were financially vulnerable, were common targets to be recruited by traffickers into carrying drugs.

“I think it is fair to say that women, generally, tend to be targeted more than men to be drug mules,” he said.

“There are many reasons why women are drawn into this kind of activity. Certainly poverty, or financial distress, is a strong motivating factor.

“While this drives many to become involved in transporting drugs knowingly, as a way to earn much needed cash, it is important to note that there are many others who have been exploited by traffickers and drawn into the trade unknowingly.

“If you look at the way law enforcement profiles arriving travellers as they try to screen for those who may be smuggling drugs, which is one of the main ways that these mules get identified, there is often a tendency for them to focus attention on younger female travellers, particularly those who are travelling alone, and coming from a known origin point where narcotics are being moved."

“While lone, female travellers are one common profile of interest, through our work we have interviewed both female and male drug couriers, of all age groups, who have been involved in smuggling drugs in the past, and so it is important to note that this is an activity that is not restricted just to women, or younger people. It is something that cuts across gender, ethnic and economic stereotypes.

“But certainly, we found that younger people often find themselves more vulnerable than others to becoming involved.”

He also said it was impossible to gauge how many drug mules made their way through airports and prisons internationally.

“In destination countries like Thailand, which has quite heavy punishment for those convicted of drug trafficking, we are seeing many foreign nationals in their prisons for the offence of drug trafficking."

“We have to remember the couriering by individual travellers of small amounts of drugs is an activity that occurs widely internationally. In act it is one of the main methods through which small volumes of drugs are moved between countries.

“Of course when we look at this activity, we tend to focus only on a small number of those involved.

“Much of what we know about mules tends to be drawn from those who have been caught, and not those who are successful.

“It is important to recognise that the vast majority of drug mules go undetected, and this use of mules as individual couriers is a successful means by which traffickers can move their drugs quite successfully, and it is quite a lucrative business model.

“If it wasn’t, then they would not be doing it.

“Of course, because so much of this activity goes undetected, it is not possible to estimate the volume of people who have been recruited into it nor is it possible to estimate the volume of drugs that move across borders in this way.

“It is fair to say, however, that the numbers for each are most likely very large.

“Asian countries in particular tend to have drug laws that are a lot stricter when it comes to the conviction and punishment of those involved in the drug trade.

“Several countries even have the death penalty for drug trafficking, a punishment that in my view is clearly inappropriate for the offence.”

He further said that South Africa itself was a key destination for the international drug trade with its geographic location making it an ideal transit point for drugs like cocaine coming from Latin America, and heroin and methamphetamine coming from Afghanistan.

Located centrally between these illicit drug origin points and their drug market destinations in Europe and Asia, South Africa has become a source point not just for transit drug flows through the region, but also as an entry point for these drugs into its many neighbouring countries across the southern African region as well he explained.

“South Africa is a cornerstone on the continent for the movement of cocaine, from Latin America, to Europe and Asia, and for methamphetamine and heroin from Afghanistan."

“As well, synthetic drugs like MDMA, ecstasy, LSD and other types of common club drugs are coming in from places in Europe and Asia."

“South Africa has a strong domestic drug market of its own. What I mean by this is that there is a diversity of drugs available and consumed in South Africa, there is a large domestic population of people who use drugs, and the use of drugs is widespread across the country.

“Drugs no longer come to South Africa intended only to be transported to other countries to be used. They come to South Africa now because there is a strong demand for them here.”

“It is relatively easy for these drugs to be moved from place to place.

“After all we must recognise the fact that wherever legal trade goes, also illegal trade goes, so anywhere legal products can be supplied, illicit products can also be supplied.

“This is an important thing to remember, particularly as we move forward across the continent with the push for freer trade, and more open borders.

“This push to make it easier for goods to move across borders will not benefit just the movement of legal goods. It will make it easier also for illegal goods, like drugs, to move across borders as well.”

Weekend Argus

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