Pubdate: Wed, 30 Dec 2009
Source: Cape Times (South Africa)
Page: Front Page
Copyright: 2009 Cape Times
Author: Michelle Jones


More than 1,000 South Africans are "languishing in appalling
conditions" behind bars in foreign countries - 65 percent of them for
drug-related offences.

Of the 1,062 South Africans serving sentences abroad, 177 are in
Brazil and 109 in the United Kingdom. Most of those in Brazil are on
drug-related offences.

In Botswana and Peru there are 66 South Africans in jail and in
Pakistan 42. Most of them jailed for drug offences.

And those are the known cases where citizens have exercised their
right to request consular assistance.

The DA's shadow minister of international relations and co-operation,
Kenneth Mubu, fears there may be many more South Africans imprisoned
overseas that the government is unaware of. "There must be people we
are not aware of. We must do some research to find out how many more
people are in prisons abroad."

According to statistics made available by the Chief Directorate of
Consular Services, 91 percent of women and 51 percent of men jailed
abroad are serving drug-related sentences.

Locked Up In A Foreign Country, a section 21 company, was started last
year to draw attention to the number of people imprisoned in foreign
countries after being used to transport drugs across international

Founder Belinda West started the company after a friend was arrested
in Venezuela last year. "We keep in touch with families of people in
prison overseas, we offer emotional support and advice about the laws
of the country they are in. It affects the families and friends

'I feel helpless to change the situation' West said the going rate for
a drug mule was between R20,000 and R35,000. The risks were lengthy
prison sentences, "inhumane and barbaric" prison conditions and the
possibility of a death sentence.

She hopes that by bringing attention to the risks, people will not be
recruited to become drug mules.

"And why have I gone to such great lengths? Why has my life come to a
grinding halt while I scurry back and forth to find information, help
and justice? Because she is a human being and because she is my
friend," West wrote on the company's website.

Patricia Gerber, the mother of Johann Gerber who is serving an 11-year
sentence in Mauritius, has become involved in the company by trying to
initiate a prisoner transfer agreement.

"Not a day goes past that I do not think, 'is he safe?'... and I long
for my son to be nearer to home. This is traumatic for me as I feel
helpless to change the situation.

"I will never understand why, when Mauritius has signed prisoner
transfer agreements with other Southern African Development Community
member states and Commonwealth countries and is more than willing to
enter into a prisoner transfer agreement with South Africa, our
government does not want to do so, even for humanitarian reasons,"
Gerber wrote.

Mubu lamented the absence of arrangements with other countries for a
prisoners to be able to serve their sentences at home. "People serving
sentences for drug dealing in South America get much harsher
treatment. The conditions are appalling. If they are sentenced to 50
years in jail, they will languish behind bars for 50 years."

Brigene Young was jailed in Mauritius in 2003 for carrying a pair of
shoes containing heroin.

In her plea for help she wrote: "I cannot begin to describe the
conditions I have survived in over the last six years. I am suffering
from depression and have had a number of panic attacks ... I seriously
feel that I will not survive the rest of my conviction. I just can't
do it anymore. I honestly can not take it anymore."

Mubu asked International Relations Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane in
Parliament how many South Africans were in foreign prisons.

Nkoane-Mashabane said her department was aware of 1,062 South African
citizens who were incarcerated abroad as on November 18.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake