Roisin Zoe Savage [IRE]
Roisin Savage explains how she found herself in prison, accuses of being a drugs courier
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Yet another sad story where advantage has been taken of someone's good nature. Irish girl, Zoe, thought she was helping a friend, but instead was being exploited as a drug courier.

"I am not bitter with the Ecuadorian Government or the justice system. They did their job according to their rules. I am innocent of the charges and I know that my friend planted drugs in my bag. But he fled and the police found them sewn in a bag that my friend had bought for me. I now just want to go home and feel no anger at all against the government of Ecuador," said Zoe Savage.

Zoe Savage is a 29 year old Irish mother of two, who works as a freelance journalist. She was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in Ecuador in July 2004 for allegedly trying to smuggle 2.5 kilos of cocaine which was sewn into the seams of her bag.

She strongly believes that the person who planted the drugs in her bag was her friend, Tony, a Nigerian with a Ghanian passport. She had been introduced to Tony by a mutual friend in Africa, where she had opened an orphanage with her husband. Two years later, Zoe and her husband moved to London. Tony now also lived in London. He attended the same church as the couple and even lived with them for a while. He left for Spain, and they heard he was having trouble with his passport. Then they received a 'phone call from him that he was in Ecuador. Tony wanted to get a visa to return to England, and, in 2002, Zoe and her husband tried to help him by faxing documents to support his application. However, he claimed that the application was refused. He asked Zoe or her husband to come to Ecuador with their own passports and other letters to show to the relevant embassy. Zoe flew out on 14th February 2003.

Tony did not meet her at the airport as promised, and only after she called him did he instruct her to go to a hotel. Later, instead of going to the embassy, which he claimed was closed, he took her shopping at a big market where she bought presents for her family at home. Tony suggested she buy a new bag for all her shopping. He also suggested that she go with his girlfriend to McDonalds to relax and she could leave her shopping with him; he said he would join them in an hour. He later called to say that he was running late, but never turned up. The next day he came to the Hotel with her newly purchased bag with the presents inside. Nothing had happening regarding his visa application and Zoe found out that the Embassy had been open all the time. Curious and angered by his strange behaviour Zoe questioned Tony and they had a row; the receptionist at the hotel where Zoe was staying witnessed this argument. Later, when Zoe tried to get in touch with Tony, he had changed his cell 'phone number. In great frustration, she brought her return trip forward and left the following day, 19th of February 2004.

At the airport she checked in for her flight to London, but was then asked to step aside so the Customs Office could check her bags. She was taken to the loading area and asked to identify her bag, which she readily did. They then found the 2.6kg of cocaine in the lining. Zoe fainted and when she came to she was taken to the police station.

Main Grounds of concern regarding fair trial procedures:

The police failed to investigate her case properly; they did not interview employees at the hotel who could have confirmed Tony's presence, and the photos of Tony which Zoe surrendered were “lost”.

There was no interpreter present at her original police interviews; only at her second interview was the Consul present after many requests. She had to wait 16 months in custody before the trial started. Her lawyer failed to turn up for her first court hearing and the court failed to provide her with an interpreter. At her second hearing she had 3 interpreters and a public defender was present. Zoe's witnesses were not present, but the lawyer was granted a short recess and stalled the procedures until one came - he had to be searched for in the hotel by the lawyer's legal assistant together with the Consul of Ireland and rushed back to the trial in a taxi! This witness confirmed the existence of Tony. The prosecution witness, the arresting officer from the airport, even said that he believed Zoe to be innocent as she was not nervous about showing her bags. However, the District Attorney still accused her. Zoe's lawyer should have made sure that 3 witnesses were present, as then the charge would have been dropped.

Under Ecuadorian law, the accused cannot be found guilty if the prosecution cannot prove that the accused was fully conscious of the crime and willing to commit it. This was not taken into consideration, nor the more than 100 character references from her Church and others, which had been submitted to the court.

Zoe's case was hampered by the fact that Ecuador has a tough anti-drugs policy, pressured by major powers like the US with a philosophy of 'guilty until proven innocent' and that potential witnesses are afraid to have anything to do with drugs cases.

Her court appointed lawyer has not yet put in an appeal. There is an automatic consultation process in all narcotic cases before the Superior Court of Justice of Quito, but given the stigma of drugs cases in Ecuador, it is quite unlikely that the court will reduce the sentence, Zoe has received, apart from her just being one of 5000 outstanding cases. Apart from this the only appeal option Zoe still has is a so called Recurso de Revision to the Supreme Court. FTA has advised her to instruct a private lawyer. We are trying to help her finding the right one.Her long term well-being is at risk through her continued imprisonment as she has only one kidney. Source: Fair Trials Abroad:

1. Write to Zoe, your letters will give her encouragement she urgently needs during the further proceedings, while being separated from her young family. (El Inca, Quito, Ecuador)

2. Write to Pat Carey, DT, Houses of the Oireachtas Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. This member of the Irish Parliament has taught Zoe at secondary school.

News Links:
Jailed mother hopes for return home: Irish Woman Jailed in Ecuador in Release Plea: Mother's prayers to get pardon in jail hell
My nightmare in a South American jail
Roisin Zoe Savage (29), from Dublin A prisoner at La Carcel de Mujeres in Quito, Ecuador, Roisin was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in July 2004 for smuggling 2.5 kilos of cocaine sewn into the seams of a bag.

Roisin denies the charge. She claims that the drugs were planted in her bag by a male Nigerian friend she had met in Africa while working at an orphanage with her husband.

Two years later, Roisin and her husband moved to London, where they attended the same church as the man. The couple later heard that the Nigerian was having trouble with his passport in Ecuador and needed a visa to return to England.

They tried to help him by faxing documents to support his application. However, he claimed that the application was refused, and asked Roisin or her husband to come to Ecuador with their own passports and other letters to show to the relevant embassy.

She flew to South America on February 14, 2003. Roisin claims that she was deceived by the man, who suggested that she should buy a bag to carry the luggage and extra souvenirs she had bought. Customs officers checked the bag at the airport, and found cocaine in the lining.

It is now hoped that Roisin, a mother of two, may be released on humanitarian grounds. Her health is said to be at risk in jail, as she has only one kidney.

'At the moment we are on hunger strike, so there is no food in the prison," says Roisin. "We are watching the news and there is a lot of fighting at the men's prisons.

"There are people getting stabbed. It's quiet here, but we expect problems at the end of the week.

"When you get arrested here you go through different stages. During the first, I was in a cell with four men. One of them escaped while I was there. It's scary here - it's a different culture. You're not the same as them, so you're not treated the same.

"You keep to yourself here. You can't rely on anybody, and everything is money. You have to pay for everything that you want.

"If you don't have money here you end up like the women all around the prison - begging, robbing, stealing your clothes. But you can have what you want once you have money - DVDs, television, telephones.

"There are five women in our cell at the moment, plus two children. It's horrible. You miss everything. You see visitors coming in with their families, and you think: 'when are our families going to be able to hold us like that?'

"There is nothing do to - no work, no studying. I used to write a lot, but recently I have been preoccupied with my retrial.

"You have to cook for yourself. You'd die if you ate what they gave you. All the stuff that comes here is secondhand stuff from the market. Rice and lots of pasta. I don't want to look at pasta in my life ever again. I want a big hamburger from McDonald's.

"There are a lot of gangs. They have threatened me a few times. Once they threatened to cut my face because they wanted money.

"Now I can communicate in Spanish. When I first came here I didn't know a word, which was very difficult. You have to learn how to communicate - to find out what is going on behind you.

"I get a lot of visitors coming in, tourists, and I tell them to be very careful. People might give you souvenirs and then there might be drugs in them. It can happen to anyone.

"But I have hope. I always ask God: 'What am I doing here? What did I do so bad in my life?' At the end of the day there is a reason for being here."

News & Information
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