Chinese authorities have executed a convicted female drug trafficker from South Africa, despite last minute appeals for clemency by President Jacob Zuma, according to the South African foreign ministry.

Janice Bronwyn Linden was arrested three years ago at the airport in Guangzhou with 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine in her possession on her arrival. She was later convicted of drug dealing in 2009.

The execution took place around 10:00 am South African time, South African foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela told Agence France Presse.

Our embassy officials were there with her family. She had two sisters who were there. We are disappointed since we would have preferred the death sentence to be commuted to a life sentence instead of the execution.

Linden, who hailed from KwaZulu-Natal, reportedly asserted her innocence and claimed the drugs were planted in her suitcase.

The execution (by lethal injection) followed a rejection of appeals in the case by both the Guangdong High Court and the Supreme Court in Beijing. Reportedly, Chinese court officials would have given her a life sentence had she pleaded guilty.

One of Linden’s family members told the Mercury newspaper of South Africa: We communicated with letters. She said she didn't know how the drugs got into her luggage. She thought she was being framed. Her sentence is not justified. How can you take a person's life for three kilograms of methamphetamine?

The execution appears to have deepened divisions between the government (which seeks to maintain close trading ties with China) and opposition groups. Critics of Zuma claim that the government is again catering to China’s demands by refusing to ruffle Beijing’s feathers.

Stevens Mokgalapa, the shadow minister for international relations for the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party in South Africa, criticized China’s justice system and Pretoria’s cozy relationship with Beijing.

“A commitment to human rights is a guiding principle of South Africa's international relations,” he told to the Times Lives paper.
“There has been little evidence of this commitment in our dealings with China of late.”

Mokgalapa was making an obvious reference to an embarrassing episode in October when the South African government was accused to bowing down to pressure from China and refused to permit the Dalai Lama to visit the country to celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday.

Mokgalapa added: In this context a reference to South Africa's economic relationship with China seems to confirm the DA's assertion that our foreign policy is 'made in China' and that where China is involved the government seems to consistently turn a blind eye towards human rights abuses. Whilst we firmly believe that drug mules should be punished for their offences, this punishment does not fit the crime.

Still, Monyela told media: All the necessary interventions were done at every possible level, even the highest ones [referring to Zuma]. Everything had to happen through diplomatic processes and there is very little that can be done around that.

Monyela added that the government even tried to persuade China to halt the execution during the United Nations global climate talks in Durban that ended over the weekend.

Even on the… sidelines[of the climate talks] the [foreign] minister summoned the Chinese ambassador, he told reporters. We pleaded for clemency repeatedly.

In response to the brouhaha, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry told Agence France Presse that the execution was carried out according to Chinese law.

On handling drug criminals, the Chinese government's position has been consistent and clear, said Liu Weimin.

Whether they are foreign or Chinese, China will handle their cases according to the law.

But the matter will not go away in South Africa.

According to The Citizen newspaper of South Africa, Mokgalapa will bring the matter to Parliament.

 South Africans deserve to know what was done to assist Linden and her family in pleading for a fair sentence and to be assured that the failure of diplomatic pressure from the South African government cannot be attributed to our apparent human rights blind spot where China is concerned, he said.

Similarly, another opposition party, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) also criticized China.

With the current growing trade relations between China and South Africa, one would have hoped this relationship would have influenced China differently, IFP MP Ben Skosana said in a statement.

The death penalty was abolished in South Africa expressly because its citizens consider it to be a fundamental violation of human rights.”

Human rights activists continue to denounce China’s adherence to the death penalty. While Chinese officials do not publicize the number of convicted prisoners it kills, western activists believes it is in the thousands every year.

Amnesty International has repeatedly alleged that prisoners in China do not receive a fair trial and has urged Beijing to cease the practice of state-sanctioned killings.