Trần Hà Duy started wearing prison uniform just two months before receiving her bachelor’s degree for a crime she described as ‘being lured to transport drugs’, which she had not been aware of before.
On being arrested, organizers of the drug trafficking ring who cheated her ‘to go abroad and carry home samples for mass production in factories’ snuck away, giving her the impossible task of proving her innocence.
Duy was sentenced to death penalty for ‘transporting drugs’ and later altered to life imprisonment.
A sudden invitation from an African man
Duy’s situation is actually not a rare case.
Being lured by transnational drug rings that often prey on naïve students and poor women is a surprisingly common tale.
On waiting to wear her traditional graduation dress on receiving her bachelor’s degree in a ceremony, Duy was arrested in July 2010.
She started recalling her life story during a talk with Tuổi Trẻ News in early August in a prison in the central Bình Thuận Province.
Contrary to imagination about a prisoner, she is polite and nurtures a love of life.
Her dream to get a master’s degree and her memories of peacefully living with her parents all collapsed because of an accidental meeting with a black foreigner on a bus in 2007 when she was still a freshman.
“In the back rows of a crowded bus, I started a conversation in English with a foreigner who introduced himself as Francis.
He wore casual dress and looked sincere.”
“We exchanged mobile phone numbers and he said he came to Việt Nam to search for business opportunities.”
Exchanging communication by phone and email for a time, Duy lost touch with Francis until two years later he suddenly called Duy for a date in a cafeteria on Phan Văn Trị Street in Hồ Chí Minh City’s Gò Vấp District.
Francis changed a lot after two years with well groomed clothes of businessman style and smelled of cologne.
Francis told Duy that he was expanding his business operations and needed to recruit a local who was fluent in English to communicate with his foreign partners.
“If you join with me, you can get a salary of thousands of US dollars a month.
It was a big chance for a senior student like me.”
Francis introduced himself as a Việt Nam-based representative of foreign companies and his job was to transfer samples of goods into Việt Nam for mass production.
So if agreed, Duy would travel abroad to meet customers, check samples, and take them to Việt Nam.
Free travel, monthly income of US$1,500
The first foreign trip for Duy was to Malaysia to discuss business opportunities with customers.
All her costs of travel, food and accommodation were covered.
After meeting two foreign customers who were well dressed, Duy was given a bag with some clothes and sandals to take home to Việt Nam.
“I was suspicious because I had read newspapers and learnt of drug trafficking.”
“I untied the coat buttons and peeled off layers of sandals to check as described by the articles but I found nothing.”
She transferred the goods to Francis and was paid US$500 for the trip.
“I was very happy with the sum and felt proud of myself because I could help my parents.”
Her second trip was to Africa and she carried home a big suitcase.
She was paid US$1,000.
She wanted to help her younger sister who was then a university freshman named Trần Hạ Tiên, and introduced Tiên to Francis for a similar job bringing home samples.
During her third trip, Duy witnessed some strange happenings.
Duy was introduced to a man named John.
John kept her passport when she set foot in the airport and asked her to stay in her hotel.
Duy was given daily food and also ordered to keep silent.
She recalled that she felt some threats from the big men she met daily.
On receiving samples to carry home, Duy was told not to discuss anything.
Duy began feeling anxious on receiving a big suitcase weighing around ten kilograms but only containing suits of clothes.
“I carefully checked the goods but found nothing strange.
“I used a knife to make a cut on the bottom of the suitcase and discovered two parcels containing white powder pressed between two layers of the bottom.
“I was numb with it and called Francis later and told him I knew everything about the samples.”
Francis was initially embarrassed but began replying in a cool voice that he didn’t want to join the ring either but couldn’t quit it then.
He advised Duy to carry it home and things would be finished.
Duy recalled that she went crazy and began shouting on the phone and refused to transport the samples.
Francis started threatening Duy:
“If you don’t do it, I cannot guarantee the safety of your sister.”
Her sister Hạ Tiên had then been introduced to Francis in Việt Nam.
Exchanging messages to friends thanks to the internet, Duy was informed that her sister had gone on a flight for a foreign trip.
Duy said she had to do her check-in at the airport under the supervision of John to carry the samples to Việt Nam to ensure the safety of her sister.
It was not the end as promised, but instead the start of a disaster on her return to Việt Nam.
Source: Tuổi Trẻ News