Diplomacy could save life of SA man sentenced to death in Vietnam

The South African man sentenced to death in Vietnam for drug trafficking is receiving support from the South African government.

"But South Africans travelling are always subject to the laws of that country, even [if] our Constitution guarantees the right to life," Ndivhuwo Mabaya, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), told News24 on Wednesday.

"We accompanied him to court and are acting as a go-between between him and his family and his lawyer," Mabaya said.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on Tuesday that a court in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City had sentenced Tyron Lee Coetzee to death after finding him guilty of trafficking nearly 1.5kg of cocaine in 2016.

Coetzee was reportedly arrested in June 2016 upon arrival at the city's Tan Son Nhat international airport after officials found the drugs in his bag.

Coetzee told investigators that he was hired by a Nigerian man to transport the drugs for $3 500 (R50 300), which would be paid after his arrival in Vietnam, AP reported.

"We offer what is called consular services, such as court assistance, to South African citizens and we put them in touch with their family and lawyer," Mabaya said.  

'We don't interfere with other countries' laws'

In terms of the death sentence, which is unconstitutional in South Africa, Mabaya said Dirco could not interfere with the laws of other countries, but would use "diplomatic measures" in an attempt to obtain a more lenient sentence.

"We plead for you, we beg for you, we use diplomatic relations to see what we can do for you.

"But in the end, we can’t interfere with the laws of that country, in the same way we don’t want other countries to interfere in ours."

According to Mabaya, Coetzee will appeal his sentence and the department will continue to assist him.

"Once [Coetzee] has exhausted all his legal options in Vietnam, we will see what we can do from a diplomatic perspective."

800 South Africans in foreign jails

In a statement on Tuesday, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu expressed concern about the high number of South Africans detained abroad on a variety of charges, predominantly drug-related, following the death sentence handed down to Coetzee.

"[Coetzee's] family has been informed of the latest developments, and the department is rendering consular support to them," Sisulu said.

According to the statement, there are currently 800 South Africans doing time in foreign jails.

"The department once again calls on South Africans travelling abroad to familiarise themselves with the legal and cultural practices of the countries they are visiting. South Africans are warned against taking part in any unlawful activities."