Family of SA drug mule on death row in Malaysia tell of anguish

2015-10-02 22:08
Deon Cornelius (Supplied)

Deon Cornelius (Supplied)

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Johannesburg - The family of a South African man sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Malaysia expressed their anguish on Friday at not being able to visit him.

"They just keep on telling us they have no visitation rights, but what about human rights?" Gert Cornelius, Deon Cornelius's uncle, told News24.

On Thursday, Deon Cornelius, 29, lost his appeal to have his death sentence overturned after he was convicted in January. Cornelius was arrested two years ago after he was found in possession of 2kg of methamphetamine when he landed at Penang International Airport on October 4 2013.

He has now been granted permission to submit a final appeal to the country's federal court, although a date for this has not yet been set.

Gert Cornelius said an email on Friday from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) informing the family about the latest court developments, was the first official correspondence they had received.

'We can't visit him'

The email informed the family South African authorities had been communicating with their Malaysian counterparts and had requested the death penalty be replaced with a prison term.

"We can only seek to assure you we are trying our best," read the email.

However, Cornelius said they were frustrated by the lack of assistance. He said they were told they had to go through Dirco to organise visitation, but when they tried to do so, the relevant people were apparently not available.

"At this moment I don't think we have other options… We can't visit him; we haven't visited him - we have to work through Dirco."

He said even when the family asked what would happen to Cornelius’s body should he be executed, the department had told the family it would be their financial responsibility to repatriate his remains. 

"Otherwise he will just be buried in a field in Malaysia," said Cornelius.

He said he generally heard from his nephew via telephone every fortnight.

"The last time [we spoke], he was positive; he reckons we mustn’t worry - he is very positive he is coming [home]."

However, he had not had contact with him since Thursday's court decision and so he did not yet know how his nephew was reacting to the legal blow.

'Everyone is just heartbroken'

Cornelius said some South Africans in Malaysia had helped deliver letters and gifts, including an iPod with music. However, the family was now desperate to visit him. 

“We need all the assistance to go there and see him."

Deon Cornelius’s mother was too emotional on Friday to talk to the media. 

Cornelius was married with a child at the time of his arrest, but his uncle said the two were now estranged.

His wife had spoken to News24 in January at the time of his sentencing, saying Deon had told her he was going to Durban to visit family and find a job.

Later he had apparently confessed that he had actually met a man named Tony who had asked him if he would like to travel the world. 

The man had apparently given Cornelius $800 (R11 208) and put him on a plane to Singapore. When he arrived in Singapore, he was asked to transport a laptop bag to Malaysia. The drugs were in the laptop bag. 

On Friday, Gert Cornelius said the family was struggling with the latest developments in his nephew’s case.

"Everyone is just heartbroken," he said.

Attempts on Friday to contact Dirco were unsuccessful.

Read more on:    dirco  |  malaysia  |  narcotics

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