Ethiopian engineer faces death penalty in China – By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw

On the 26th of January 2019 the Amharic Weekly, Addis Admas, published a news story about a young Ethiopian engineer who has been detained in China for drug smuggling. What one can understand from the news story is that the Ethiopian suspect is under arrest with no outside contact. Meaning she is deprived of communication with anyone including her parents and family members except a diplomat of Ethiopian Embassy in Beijing. Some say that such imprisonment can expose the suspect for torture and illegal treatments… I want to retell this same story so that the Ethiopian government and other pertinent bodies at national and international levels can be nudged in to action for the release of the unfortunate young lady.

Nazrawit Aberra is a civil engineer. She was one of the lucky young people who lined up at the front row of highly paid working class. The young engineer usually spends her leisure time with her close friend who once served the Ethiopian Air Lines as a hostess. This friend of hers has now changed her profession to trading business. She imports expensive materials to be sold out at local markets. Her travels far and wide enabled her to visit many countries.                                   

One day it so happened that she proposed to Nazrawit a joint visit to China. “You will love visiting that big country. You will be impressed by many things there… Moreover, it is a good opportunity to be together at times with an engineer friend in such overseas visit…”

Nazrawit’s face beamed with amusement. She could not believe her ears. She taught this visit would bring her a good experience for her work. It is really delighting to make a tour of that ancient country which is making tremendous progress in the technology sector. “I can’t believe that! …Yessss! … I really thank you for your kind proposal, dear!” she hugged and kissed her friend. It seemed she could hardly get words to express her excitement. She was so excited that she could not wait till she got back home. She called her siblings and told them about the visit. She disseminated the news to her close friends and relatives. They all expressed happiness and showered her with words of appreciation.

“… What a chance! … How lucky you are! So, you are going to see the Great Wall? … Oh, my God! … Hey, don’t forget to visit the Forbidden City… You will see many things in the engineering sector…”

Nazrawit started preparing herself for the travel. She stuffed her best clothes, cultural costumes, shoes… in her big luggage. She put her makeup products in the small bags…

In the meantime, unexpected thing happened. Her friend (the one who had proposed the visit) called and told Nazrawit sorrowfully about the sudden death of her father. “I lost my dad! I don’t know what happened. I am sorry to tell you that I can’t go to China because of this… But you can go alone… No need to wait for me. I can assure you that nothing will happen to you. I have friends and acquaintances there. They can be by your side for everything… Nazri, I hope you can do that; can’t you? … Don’t be afraid, please,” she implored her in a mournful sound.

Nazrawit was confused. Chilly wind blew across her face. She felt as if she was deprived of something special. But the other side of her was telling her that she should soothe her dear friend by promising to go to China alone. “…Yeah, I can go by myself. Don’t worry, dear. I assure you… I can do that. Please, don’t cry. I am sorry for the sudden death of your dad.”

“Thank you, Nazri! You know I will be happy if I go with you. But, what can I do in such situation? …” her voice faded out with crying.

“No, please keep calm. I will see you before I fly to China… The trip should not be a big concern for you. Just think of things you should do here for the mourning… Don’t worry about the trip, ok?”

“Nazri, I thank you very much! It will be a good time for us if we go together. But we can’t do that because of this unexpected thing. Anyways, you can go by yourself. You will never feel loneliness once you are there. You are eager to see that country… I am sorry to leave you alone…” She mumbled.

“Please, don’t cry! Ok? … I will go. I don’t feel loneliness. I assure you, I will be alright.” Nazrawit tried to calm and comfort her friend… Though she felt making a first trip to China by herself would be tough, she was determined to give it a try. She promised to herself that she could do it.

Nazrawit’s plan was to fly back home from China before Genna (Ethiopian Christmas). She was eager to enjoy the breaking of the big fast (of Orthodox Christians) with her entire family. She knew that her mom would not take a bite of Injera at that big festival without her. Yes, she could stay there for a week and fly back home before Genna.

On the night she was about to fly to China, Nazrawit met her friend at Bole International Airport. She had told her a day before that she would see her off at the Airport. They chatted for half an hour and at last her friend handed a bag, heavy with something, to Nazrawit who opened and take a quick look inside. She saw some bottles and two small bundles.

“What are these?” Nazrawit asked.

“They are samples of shampoos and human hair. I need you to deliver them to an acquittance (a man) in Guangzhou. What you will do is that the moment you book your hotel there, you will send me an e-mail message notifying me the name of the hotel. Then, I will soon tell the man to come to you to pick the materials…” So saying she kissed Nazrawit farewell.

Nazrawit took her seat at the big Ethiopian Airbus. The flight from Addis to Guangzhou took about ten hours. Up on her arrival, it was dark under the sky of Guangzhou. Nazrawit touched China for the first time. Before she was allowed to step out of the airport, her baggage had to pass through an x-ray screening machine. Immediately after, the diligent airport security workers searched manually everything piece by piece. Then, suddenly one of the officers started talking through his walky-talky. He moved back and forth in a strange manner still talking through the walky-talky which was glued to his ear. Not long after that, two lady security workers grabbed Nazrawit’s hands from either sides and stayed in full alert for some minutes. Then leading her, they all stormed in to an office. Five of the bottles she carried from Ethiopia were placed on a big table in front of her. A fatty police officer with half-closed eyes and chubby cheeks greeted her with a nod.

“Welcome to China, madam. Are these bottles yours?” He asked pointing at the bottles.

“Yes, sir. They are mine. Is there any problem?” Nazrawit’s heart has already started pounding. She put her shaking hands on her bosom to muffle the shuddering.

“We are here to talk about your bottles. They are filled with liquid heroin and dangerous narcotic drugs. Don’t you know smuggling drugs in to China is a serious crime? It is indeed punishable by death! China has death penalty for drug trafficking… Don’t you know that?”

“Ohhhh… my God! … I have no the slightest idea about the contents inside the bottles… I was given by a friend of mine in Addis Ababa. She told me they were only shampoos to be delivered to her acquaintance (a man) in Guangzhou…”

“Do you know the man to whom they were supposed to be delivered to?”

“No! … I was supposed only to notify via e-mail to my friend in Addis the name of the hotel I am gonna book. Then, my friend sends a message to the guy who is said to come to the hotel to collect these materials… I don’t know for sure who that man is…” Nazrawit could not say any more words.

The other police officer approached and put handcuffs on Nazrawit. Then he moved a step sideway and stood to attention. The chief police officer cleared his voice and said, “I am sorry madam, we will have to go to police station!” Nazrawit got misty-eyed by the stern command of the chief police officer. She was led outside to a big black police van with swirling flash light on top of it… 

Her family was bewildered by the incident and her siblings took no time before flying to Guangzhou to visit their unfortunate sister. But they were not lucky. They were told that Nazrawit’s case ‘is a serious one and she is incommunicado’ … meaning, she is deprived of any communication with others.

Drug trafficking in China is a serious crime that can result in capital punishment. Unless the Ethiopian government involves in Nazrawit’s case as soon as possible, it can have a serious consequence. What has happened previously in that country indicates the seriousness of such cases…

News sources show that though the case is disputable, a Canadian man by the name Robert LIoyd Schellenberg was said to face death penalty over drug smuggling in to China. Some say it is a tit-for-tat over the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer in Canada. “The Global Times, which is close to the Chinese authorities, said that under Chinese law, the penalty for smuggling or manufacturing at least a kilo of opium, 50 grams of heroin or methylaniline is 15 years to life in jail, or in extreme cases, the death penalty. It noted that in 2009, China executed the Briton Akmal Shaikh after he was convicted of smuggling four kilos (9lb) of heroin.”

At last … My conscience is telling me that the Chinese police could have trapped the guy who was supposed to receive the bottles in Guangzhou if they had allowed Nazrawit to send her ‘arrival’ message to her friend in Ethiopia. If they had been serious, they could easily have traced the recipient guy in China in this way … of course, taken for granted what we have been told here is true. The lady, who sent the bottles through Nazrawit to China, is reportedly strolling freely in Ethiopia… What does this mean?    

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