'He will always be my baby brother': sister of SA man sentenced to death in Vietnam

29 August 2018 - 14:43 By Angela Daniels
Tyron Lee Coetzee
Tyron Lee Coetzee
Image: Facebook

A Port Elizabeth woman whose younger brother has been sentenced to death for smuggling cocaine into Vietnam firmly believes he was a victim of trafficking – and has slammed the South African government for failing to assist one of its citizens.

Speaking on Tuesday, a tearful Chantal Coetzee said she had just heard about her brother’s sentence and another of her brothers was about to break the news to their mother – a particularly difficult task as it was her 67th birthday.

Overseas media reports on Tuesday said a Vietnamese court had sentenced Tyron Lee Coetzee to death for smuggling cocaine from Brazil into the Southeast Asian country.

Coetzee, 34, was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport in June 2016, carrying 1.46kg of cocaine in his luggage, the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper reported.

Coetzee’s trial began in May 2017 but it was temporarily suspended after he said he suffered from schizophrenia.

For Chantal, 42, and her family, their nightmare began in May 2016 when Coetzee was meant to travel from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth to visit her.

Instead, it appears, he travelled to Brazil and from there to Ho Chi Minh City.

When Coetzee failed to arrive in Port Elizabeth, his worried family informed Missing Children South Africa, which posted his picture online in June 2016, the group said on its Twitter page.

From there, it was five weeks of worry before his family was informed by the South African authorities of his arrest.

He had been in jail for almost a month before they were informed.

On Tuesday, the South African Embassy in Hanoi said it was unable to provide any immediate comment on the case.

To Chantal, that was hardly surprising, considering the length of time it took for the family to be informed of Coetzee’s arrest.

Choking back tears, Chantal said her brother had been the perfect candidate to be coerced by a trafficking syndicate.

“I don’t want to dishonour him,” she said, before candidly explaining that he had had a difficult life.

“He didn’t finish school, he struggled to hold down a job,” Chantal said, adding that the family had tried to have Coetzee psychologically assessed prior to his arrest.

There are thousands of South Africans who are deceived, who are locked up because they listened to some con story
Chantal Coetzee

He had, however, dropped out of a programme he had entered into – in the hopes of getting his life on track – before the report had been filed.

“I do believe this is trafficking, that he was coerced,” she said.

Chantal said that she hoped other South Africans could learn from her family’s ordeal.

“There are thousands of South Africans who are deceived, who are locked up because they listened to some con story,” she said.

Chantal said that she had been disappointed and angered by the South African government’s inaction in the matter.

She said not only had it taken almost a month for officials to inform the family of Coetzee’s arrest, they had also not advocated on his behalf or kept the family up to date on court proceedings.

Although her brother had had some problems, to her he would always be her “baby brother”, a loved member of the family.

Chantal and her family will now be looking at Coetzee’s options, consulting as widely as possible in the hopes of launching a successful appeal against the sentence.

He has 15 days to appeal.

Drugs such as dagga are illegal yet consumed widely in Vietnam, but transporting 100 grams or more of cocaine is a criminal offence, punishable by death.

When contacted on Tuesday afternoon, department of international relations spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya’s phone went to voicemail.

- HeraldLIVE with additional reporting by Reuters