Paraguay tries to stop execution of woman convicted of cocaine trafficking in China

By Jack Chang , AP

BEIJING–Rosalia Amarilla stepped into the international terminal of Beijing’s cavernous main airport on the afternoon of July 24, 2012, wearing more than 3 kilograms of cocaine stuffed into her underwear and bra. An acquaintance named Carlos had given the 31-year-old Paraguayan the drug-filled undergarments to wear in Sao Paulo, Brazil, before she boarded a flight to Doha, Qatar, and then Beijing. Security officials nabbed her before she could meet two Chinese waiting for her outside the airport.

Chinese prosecutors and her defenders agree that is how the clothes vendor ended up in a women’s prison far from home, awaiting execution on drug trafficking charges. Paraguayan prosecutors and diplomats, as well as human rights activists, argue that Amarilla was forced to carry the narcotics and should not be put to death.

Her plight has become a cause celebre in her small South American home country and a controversy internationally. Paraguayan senators have signed letters demanding her release, and her friends and former high school classmates have marched through the streets of the capital of Asuncion demanding she come home. Earlier this month, the country’s top diplomat brought up Amarilla’s case with his Chinese counterparts during a meeting in Beijing of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, according to Paraguay’s Foreign Ministry.

Santiago Fiorio, an official with the ministry’s human rights department, said the Chinese have revealed the courts will review the case in July. The Chinese Foreign Ministry added more details in a statement, saying the Beijing High Court approved a two-year suspension of her death sentence in July 2013. Judicial authorities in China often commute death sentences to life in prison or other non-capital punishments after such suspensions. Amarilla’s court-appointed Chinese defense attorney, Bai Baoli, declined to comment.

Back at home, the woman’s older sister Patricia Amarilla said her family is hoping the campaign to save Rosalia will shed light not only on her case, but on those of other Paraguayan women who have been forced to serve as drug mules for international traffickers, usually under threat.

Patricia said the family lost contact with Rosalia for about six months before learning that she had been sentenced to death �X a typical punishment in a country where drug offenses are severely disciplined.

��We want this to be an example so that there are no more women in this situation,�� the sister said. ��We’re hoping that we will see Rosalia coming home.�� ‘Grave and very dangerous problem’