Death row man’s family helpless

Facing no proper defence, no access to loved ones, he faces dire situation


The Eastern Cape family of a South African man on death row in Vietnam for drug smuggling are in a race against time to save his life.
Last month, 34-year-old Tyron Lee Coetzee’s appeal of his death sentence failed as he was forced to defend himself when no state-appointed lawyer arrived at court.
In August 2018, Coetzee, was sentenced to death by a Vietnamese court for smuggling cocaine from Brazil into Vietnam.
He was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport in June 2016‚ carrying 1.46kg of cocaine in his luggage.
His family has maintained that he was likely set up to be an “unwitting distraction” (decoy) for other activities of a drug and human trafficking syndicate.
Coetzee’s sister Chantal, who lives in Port Elizabeth, learnt only four days prior that his appeal would be taking place on April 16.
While she was told by the SA department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) that he would have a lawyer appointed by the Vietnamese state, no one appeared at the appeal hearing.
With the appeal failing, Chantal and her family have now appointed legal representatives from New Zealand to take up their case in a desperate bid to prevent the sentence from being carried out.
However, according to Chantal, the New Zealanders are having trouble getting access to Coetzee, as they have been told the prison requires authorisation from the South African embassy in Hanoi.
To date, they have not received the necessary documentation.
“We have absolutely no idea when he is supposed to be put to death.
“From what we have been told, the Vietnamese are very secretive about these things. We just don’t know,” Chantal said on Friday.
Since his arrest three years ago, Coetzee has not been able to see, call or write to his family. He will turn 35 on June 15.In order to pay for the costly legal fees, the family needs R195,000, and is raising funds on crowd-funding platform backabuddy. Chantal said due process and her brother’s rights had been trampled on “from the beginning”.She said not only did his trial only last a day, but the Vietnamese lawyer – a non-English speaker – appointed to represent him in 2017, arrived only minutes before court proceedings were scheduled to begin.Chantal said she had made countless calls and sent hundreds of e-mails trying to find lawyers to represent her brother, as the family had been told Vietnamese lawyers were loathe to contest rulings made by their judges.“There was also so much uncertainty around the appeal. Dirco told us he had 15 days after sentencing to appeal, but we did not know if that was 15 working days or 15 days in total.“Eventually we received a very complicated message from his original trial lawyer via Dirco.“It talked about appeals being made in a lower court, then if that failed, the supreme court and if that failed, appealing for clemency from the Vietnamese president.“We didn’t hear anything, but then in April Dirco told us that Tyron’s appeal would be four days later, on April 16. We were told the same day as his appeal had failed and that he had to represent himself.”She warned people that slick syndicates used vulnerable people as “decoys”...

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