Crowdfunding to save South African national detained in Vietnam for drug smuggling

16 October 2018 - 08:31 By Naledi Shange
Tyron Lee Coetzee
Tyron Lee Coetzee
Image: Facebook

The family of South African national Tyron Lee Coetzee who was sentenced to death for smuggling cocaine in Vietnam‚ is pulling out all the stops to save him.

They recently started a crowdfunding campaign to get a better lawyer who can hopefully appeal his sentence.

In a Facebook page meant to support families whose relatives find themselves embroiled in drug smuggling cases‚ Tyrone's sister Chantal said they were hardly getting any information on the status of his case in Vietnam.

"We don't have much of an update from Vietnam or from the South African Embassy but we've learned that we need the services of a better lawyer to defend Tyron in his next appeal. We are hoping that new information and evidence‚ pointing to him being a victim of human trafficking‚ will lead to him being exonerated‚" she wrote.

"We have set up a fundraising campaign to raise the money needed for legal fees‚ so if you able and willing to support us in this‚ please click the link below to make a donation. Thank you so much for all of your continued support!"

On the BackABuddy page created for the fundraising‚ the family indicated that it needed around R150‚000 for legal fees. By Tuesday morning‚ R5‚226 had been raised.

"We request your assistance in urgently raising the funds needed to pay the lawyer‚ as well as travel costs for his mother and siblings to see him after 2 years without communication of any kind‚" the family pleaded.

Last month‚ TimesLIVE reported that Tyrone Lee's family had slammed the South African government for failing to assist him.

At the time‚ a tearful Chantal 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 had said that a Vietnamese court had sentenced Tyron Lee Coetzee to death for smuggling cocaine from Brazil into the Southeast Asian country.

The 34-year-old was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport in June 2016‚ carrying 1.46 kg 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.

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.

He had‚ however‚ dropped out of a programme to get 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 would 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. 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.

The department of international relations could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. Previously the ministry said an official from South Africa was in court when Tyrone was handed his sentence.

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said in a statement: "The family of the man has been informed of the latest developments and the department is rendering consular support to the them. The department will continue to monitor the case and will take the lead from the concerned citizen with regard to the possibility of appealing the sentence."