BANGKOK – The Mozambican government is seeking clemency in the case of a young Mozambican woman, arrested in Thailand in the possession of illicit drugs.
In Thailand, as in much of south-east Asia, drug trafficking can be punished with the death penalty, and Justice Minister Benvinda Levy told reporters on Thursday that the government is working hard to save the woman, Monica Novela, from this fate.
The 30 year old Novela, who is the mother of three children, was arrested on 14 October at Phuket International Airport in Thailand, in the possession of six kilos of methamphetamine better known as “crystal meth”.
Thai customs say they found the drug in false compartment of her luggage.
She told customs officers that she had been hired for 50,000 baht about 1,630 US dollars to deliver the drug to customers on Thailand’s Patong beach.
The street value of the drug is put at 21 million baht 684,000 US dollars, making this seizure the largest drug haul ever at Phuket airport.
Levy said the Mozambican authorities became aware of the case through the press, and had then immediately sought to confirm Novela’s identity. “We were in contact with her family yesterday (Wednesday) and we were able to obtain additional details”, she said.
According to the family, Monica Novela, who had never set foot on a plane before, left Maputo on 12 October and said she was going to see a friend in South Africa.
On 14 October, Novela telephoned a brother who lives in South Africa, saying that she was facing problems at an airport she was unable to identify. The brother undertook an Internet search and found that his sister had been arrested for possession of drugs in Thailand.
Because Novela is a Mozambican citizen, the government decided it had a duty to act, and is doing so via the Mozambican embassy in Indonesia (since Mozambique has no diplomatic representation in Thailand).
“The first task we gave our ambassador was to address a verbal note to the government of Thailand, expressing our concern at what had happened, and asking that the death penalty, normally applied in such cases in Thailand, not be used”, Levy said. “We have asked for clemency or a reduction in the penalty”.
At the same time, the honorary consul of Mozambique in Thailand has gone to Phuket to ensure that Novela has legal assistance during the investigation and eventual trial.
Mozambican Transport Minister Paulo Zucula is on a working visit to Thailand, and President Armando Guebuza has instructed him to intervene with the Thai authorities, and ask them to spare Monica Novela’s life.
Levy said the government is not asking the Thai authorities to acquit Novela, but is urging them not to sentence her to death, or to commute any death sentence to a prison term.
She noted that there had been a case in China where three Mozambicans condemned to death had their sentences commuted.
Levy said this case should serve as a warning to anyone tempted to become involved in drug trafficking, which is regarded as a serious crime, subject to heavy penalties throughout the world.
She said that, in addition to the three in Chinese jails, there are 67 Mozambicans imprisoned for drug offences in Brazil. The real number of Mozambicans arrested for drug trafficking could be higher, she added, since there might be other cases not reported to the Mozambican authorities.