Girls plead for their mum in China jail

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By Cyrus Ombati

The family of Ms Christine Nyabera Ongowo – one of the six Kenyans sentenced to death for drug trafficking in China – is slowly but painfully coming to terms with the finality of her fate. Her children acknowledge she may never live in their midst, nor hear her reassuring voice in an uncertain night.

So their only prayer is to have her spend the rest of her life in a Kenyan jail, at least a place they can visit and comfort her.

“Please bring her back home! I really miss my mum and we would like to see her in any of Kenyan jails,” says Ongowo’s lastborn daughter Sheila Atieno Omondi, as she fights back tears.

Sheila, 19, was accompanied by her two sisters Zipporah Adhiambo, 20, and Judy Wangari, 30, when they spoke to The Standard about their ordeal. The tragedy of their mother mirrored in their youthful faces and voices full of uncertainty. Ongowo was widowed 19 years ago when Sheila was only two months old.

The ladies say they had no idea that their mother was a drug trafficker and were shocked to learn that she had been caught with heroin.

Last moments

Sheila Atieno (right), Judy Wangari (centre) and Zipporah Adhiambo, daughters of Ms Christine N Ongowo, a Kenyan on death row in China. They spoke during a press conference at Warwick Centre, Nairobi, on Wednesday. [PHOTO: MBUGUA KIBERA/STANDARD]

At the meeting near Gigiri, where their aunt Ms Margaret Forbes works, the girls recalled their last moments with their mother.

Zipporah said she was the last person to talk to her mother on phone on December 26, 2007, after she failed to get her flight back home as promised. Their mother had left for Dubai for shopping on December 15, 2007, promising her family she would be back early enough to vote in the General Election but never made it back.

Zipporah said her mother asked her how they had spent Christmas at their Ongata Rongai home in Nairobi, where they have been living with their paternal grandfather. She said she would try to catch her flight the following day and then call Zipporah once she got to Nairobi.

That did not happen. Instead, they received a distressing call from a friend in China informing them that Ongowo had been arrested in Guangzhou after her luggage was found with an unspecified amount of heroine. Six months later the family received the news that she had been sentenced to death. Ongowo, as the Chinese law stipulates, has two years to prove she merits having her sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

But yesterday, Zipporah’s plea was that her mother’s death sentence be commuted to life and that she be brought home to serve the rest of her sentence.

“I would be happy if the Kenyan Government worked with China to transfer her here. We have never talked to her since then and she was our breadwinner,” Zipporah says, her voice faltering into a sob as tears stream down her face.

For the last 10 years, the girls said, their mother had been involved in business of selling clothes and handbags that she imported from India and Dubai. Ongowo bought the goods and sold them locally, or in Uganda and Rwanda at a profit.

Mother unwell

Sheila said she fears their mother, who suffers from ulcers, high blood pressure and arthritis, may die in Guangzhou.

Ongowo’s sister Margaret, who takes care of the three daughters, also talked of the agony she has gone through since she learnt of the arrest and sentence saying she believes a miracle will happen to have sister transferred to Kenya.

“I hope to see a miracle for the reduction of the sentence,” she said.

Margaret urged the Government to educate Kenyans on the dangers of being involved in drug trafficking in any part of the world. Margaret, who spoke with pain of seeing her sister suffer, said she had written a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and attached her sister’s photo asking for the Government’s intervention. She said she visited the Permanent Secretary Mwangi Thuita, their MP Jakoyo Midiwo and the Chinese office at the ministry with the letters in April in a bid to secure the release of her sister but in vain.

“All they have been telling me is that the Chinese laws have been changed to exclude women from being hanged, even if they are sentenced to death. But who can believe that?” she posed.

Brought home

In despair, Margaret said a time came when she asked the Government to ensure her sister’s body was brought home if she was executed. She said she had been informed that there are hundreds of other Kenyans held elsewhere over similar charges and urged the Government to pursue the cases to the letter.

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula plans to travel to China on Tuesday to try and help save the lives of the six Kenyans and negotiate prisoner-exchange with the Chinese authorities.

Drug arrests

Others sentenced to death for drug trafficking include Peter Amisi Obonyo, 36, who was arrested with the drugs in Shenzhen, Ms Josephine Ochieng Onim, 26, and Ms Grace Lucy Omondi, 57.

Ms Leah Muthoni Mweru Kimani was convicted after being arrested with drugs in Guangzhou. Those sentenced to life imprisonment are Ms Margaret Mudasia Engesia, Ms Oliviah Munoko, Ms Peris Mumbi, Ms Jemimah Wairimu Wangai, Ms Catherine Wambui and Ms Jecinta Wambui Kuria.


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