SA has 660 held abroad for drugs

18 December 2011 - 04:13 By PREGA GOVENDER

SOUTH Africa has a staggering 660 citizens in foreign jails for drug-related offences.

And, in addition to Janice Linden, 36, who was executed on Monday in China, at least seven other South Africans in that country have received the death sentence.

But, for them, the sentence was suspended for two years provided they do not become involved in crime during that time behind bars.

The Department of International Relations has confirmed that the seven unnamed South Africans are hoping to end up doing life sentences only.

Linden, of Wentworth in Durban, did not benefit from that reprieve.

She was executed after being convicted for smuggling 3kg of tik through China's Baiyun International Airport three years ago.

Also on Monday, Nolubabalo Nobanda, 23, was arrested at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport after police discovered 1.5kg of cocaine in her dreadlocks.

Now it has emerged that her close friend may have been on the same flight or had planned to meet her in Bangkok.

Department spokesman Clayson Monyela said a total of 985 South Africans were imprisoned in foreign jails - 67% of them for drug-related offences.

But the number could actually be much higher as the department is not informed of the arrest of every South African abroad.

Twenty South Africans were reportedly arrested in the past month for drug offences, in India, Dubai, Brazil, New Zealand, Malawi, Argentina, Hong Kong and Mozambique.

Those serving time or facing drug-related charges in countries with the death penalty include:

  •  Sixteen in China;
  • Two in Indonesia whose trials are under way;
  •  Three in Malaysia whose trials are under way; and
  •  Eleven in Thailand, including three awaiting-trial prisoners.

Most of those serving lengthy jail terms are imprisoned in São Paulo, Brazil.

According to a document from international relations, and seen by the Sunday Times, 167 of the 173 South Africans in Brazilian jails last year were serving time for drug possession.

Monyela declined to divulge the identity of the seven South Africans in China whose death penalty sentences were suspended, saying their families would have to give permission.

A 44-year-old mother of nine was arrested for possession of heroin after crossing the Cambodian border into Thailand about two weeks ago.

Possession of heroin carries the death penalty in Thailand .

Speaking from Thailand, South Africa's ambassador to the country, Douglas Gibson, confirmed that a South African was arrested on a "serious" drug charge but declined to provide further details.

Gibson, who will be handing out gifts to the 11 South African prisoners before Christmas, said the woman asked that they not discuss her case with the media.

"The lady says she doesn't want any publicity at all," said Gibson, who confirmed that another South African had also been arrested in July.

Willem Geldenhuys from Cape Town was released from a Thai prison in August after serving almost 10 years for possession of cocaine.

Patricia Gerber, director of Locked Up, an organisation that has been lobbying the government since 2005 to enter into prisoner exchange agreements with other countries, said most of the South Africans arrested abroad were merely "decoys".

"The decoys distract the police's attention and are arrested and take the fall for the drug mules who walk through with huge amounts of drugs. The (real) mules carry between 10kg and 20kg of drugs."

Gerber said she knew of at least 20 South Africans arrested for drugs in India, Dubai, Brazil, New Zealand, Malawi, Argentina, Hong Kong and Mozambique last month.

Correctional Services commissioner Tom Moyane said of prisoner exchange: "We cannot transfer somebody who has caused grief in our country, knowing full well that he may be released in his country. The laws in his country may be weak and it would be a travesty of justice to allow that."