Family Has the Power to Change: Seeking Justice for Mary Jane Veloso, Trafficked Death Row Inmate
Posted on July 7, 2023
Category: Article

On the morning of 12 June 2023, the parents and two sons of Mary Jane Veloso finally saw her for the first time in four years at Wonosari prison in Yogyakarta. Her sons could not stop kissing her, and her parents could not stop crying. 

Mary Jane is a former migrant worker from the Philippines who has been sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug trafficking and jailed since 2010.  She is one of many Asian women who are vulnerable to human trafficking owing to their socio-economic circumstances. She is a single mother with two sons, she had an ambition to provide for her family and ensure their future. 

However, when she attempted to provide for her children, she was duped into carrying drugs in a suitcase that was given to her to travel to Indonesia. After six months of her arrest, in October 2010, the court sentenced Mary Jane to death. Her execution was scheduled on  April 29, 2015, however, on the same day, she was granted a stay of execution so that she could give testimony as a witness for the trial of her alleged trafficker.

Her family’s efforts to save her have never wavered since the day she was apprehended, and they continue to raise support from their home country across the sea. They never stopped striving to free their daughter, uniting with numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Never forget how much your family loves you.”

Responding to the requests from Migrante International and Beranda Perempuan, BEBESEA assisted Mary Jane Veloso’s family’s 4th visit in Indonesia.  The visit had  four key goals: to reunite the family, to increase support of Indonesian civil society, to strengthen advocacy and campaigning to free Mary Jane and bring her home. I was given the opportunity to accompany them to visit Mary Jane in the prison in Yogyakarta and also to spend time with them in Jakarta. 

The Story from the Prison

We had two days to visit Mary Jane, on June 12 and 13.  The first day of the visit started from 9 a.m. and lasted until 2 p.m. It was a very emotional reunion, after four years since the family saw her last. Their parents assumed that the civil society in Indonesia had forgotten about Mary Jane since she had been relocated in a prison in a remote area, but we have not forgotten her. Her mother said that if Mary Jane ever becomes free, she wants to visit and thank everyone who helped her. 

Mary Jane’s mother also told us that Mag, the oldest son, was a very smart boy before his mother was imprisoned, but the arrests and death sentence had a negative impact on his ability to concentrate on study. She also said that Darren, the youngest son, was bullied at school and his friends said to him things such as “your mother is an addict” or “your mother will be executed.” This made him drop out from school. I felt the huge impact her arrest and death sentence had on her children.  

The second visit was longer than the first, lasting from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it was already the last day to see Mary Jane. On this day, Romo Bernhard Kieser, a lecturer at Sanata Dharma University, was among those who came to see her. He used to be a priest appointed by prison authorities to help Catholic convicts at Wirogunan prison, where Mary Jane was detained in the past. He told me a story of the first time he met Mary Jane. After a week into his service at the prison, he met Mary Jane, who still struggled to communicate either in English or Indonesian. However, in June 2023, after visiting Mary Jane, he said he was glad to meet her, and to learn that she can speak English and Bahasa fluently and even a little Javanese.

At the time, we also bought Mary Jane’s painting for a million rupiah. The painting tells about her imagination with her kids, her parents, and her friends that represent solidarity to keep supporting her all this time. Not only that, but she also designed a handbag for her lawyer and friends. Mary Jane is a person who works hard even in prison and is  also highly creative, producing works such as handbags, paintings and batik. She continues to work in order to save money for her sons. Mag,the oldest son, said that her mother never spends her hard-earned money because she wants to give it all to her sons once she is free from prison.

The most emotional moment occurred when Mary Jane’s family stepped out from prison after the visit. Mary Jane appeared by the window of the prison, waved at us and said “thank you.”’ Her sons couldn’t hold back their tears as they waved her goodbye while clutching their chests close because this was the last day they’d be able to touch their mother during this visit. Mary Jane’s parents felt the same way, and her father couldn’t stop wiping his tears, while Mary Jane’s mother kept rubbing her chest. 

“I sincerely hope that Mary Jane can obtain clemency because my daughter has suffered a lot.” -Mary Jane’s Mother

Continuous  Advocacy and Campaign

On June 15, an event “International Dialogue; Breaking the Chain of Modern-Day Slavery, Human Trafficking, and Drug Syndicates Against Migrant Workers” took place at the State Islamic University in Yogyakarta.  The event was followed by a Joint Statement titled “Specifications are Insufficient: The Government should Apologise and Fulfil The Right to Remedy for TIP and Modern Slavery Victims”  which was signed by 12 human rights, migrant rights and women rights advocacy organisations. [Click here to see the statement Joint Statement]

On June 21st BEBESEA with Migrante International and Beranda Perempuan held an Exclusive Media Briefing and recording of a podcast episode with Mary Jane’s family in order to raise more awareness to increase supporters in Indonesia and beyond. 

 This media briefing was an opportunity to share Mary Jane and her family’s experiences as well as a  global campaign and advocacy led by Migrante International, represented by Joanna Conception. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih representing JBMI also talked about the situations of Indonesian migrant workers and called for solidarity. Daniel Awigra of Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and BEBESEA  talked about the roles and responsibility of the Anti-trafficking taskforce and non-punishment principle of ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Person (ACTIP). 

BEBESEA’s podcast called VoiceSEA also recorded a conversation with Mary Jane’s mother and her son – Mag, Joanna, Awigra and Jesse Adam Halim from HRWG and BEBESEA. This also became another opportunity to hear emotional experiences of Mary Jane’s family, to share civil society advocacy to free Mary Jane and to call for solidarity. The episode will be published later in this month, July 2023. 

To end this reflection of my time spent with Mary Jane’s family, I want to share what  Attorney Edre Olalia, Mary Jane’s Lawyer from the Philippines, told me. When I asked him what he  thought was going on in Mary Jane’s mind that she hadn’t yet expressed, he said;

I’m not a mind reader, nor can I see her heart. But my impression, I could second guess that apart from the usual emotions of homesickness, of desolation, of helplessness bordering on a mixture of hopefulness and hopelessness struggling between those things. I would imagine that she wouldn’t want any other migrants whether from Philippines or Indonesia or anywhere else in the world to experience the same horrific situation as hers. She was thrust into somebody, leaping to work abroad to feed her family because there are no adequate or just no opportunities for employment in her own country. And only to find herself behind prison bars and wars on that road. I’m sure she does not want that kind of horrendous experience to happen to any other migrant, especially women migrants who want to put food on the table, bring their kids to school, have something to fall back on whenever they get sick. Simple, basic necessities in life, and then they get to be victimised by consequences not of your own making.That’s not fair. If you see Mary Jane like that, I cannot imagine if I was going to physically place it and see Mary Jane.”

30th July is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Society must recognise the vulnerabilities of women migrants to trafficking in person and victims should not be inappropriately punished for unlawful acts they committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Let us put all of our strengths to build solidarity to call for  clemency of Mary Jane, and never stop supporting the rights of all migrant workers who are seeking  a better future for their loved ones. 



This article was written based on the author’s experience in Yogyakarta and Jakarta while accompanying the 4th visit of Mary Jane Veloso’s family to Indonesia. All photos were taken by the author or given permission to publish.


Arlene Alishya Audrey, BEBESEA


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Latest Articles

Where is Home?

Where is Home?

A young boy’s life drastically changed after the pandemic followed by the coup in Myanmar. This work of fiction is based on reports from different media agencies as well as interviews with people from A Nyar. Trigger warning: death, war, bombs, suffering of...

The Shadows Floating Along The Mekong

The Shadows Floating Along The Mekong

In Cambodia, Vietnamese immigrants face many challenges, such as policy changes, depleted fish resources, and mistreatment by authorities. A Vietnamese Cambodian couple, Hen and Tham, were forced to abandon their home on Tonle Sap Lake and move to Vietnam, rendering...