By SOPHIE NEVILLE
More than 600 New Zealanders are being held in overseas jails accused of offences ranging from drug trafficking to violent crime.
New Zealand embassies provided advice and help for 261 Kiwis arrested abroad in the year from June 2003 to June 2004 and assisted 75 prisoners.
Though most of the Kiwis are held in Australia, six are jailed in Japan, three in Thailand, one in India, one in China, two in Cambodia, one in the Middle East and eight in Europe and America.
The statistics, supplied by the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, represent the number of New Zealanders who have been in contact with embassies. They do not account for people who may be imprisoned but have not sought the help of the New Zealand Government.
It is believed most have been charged with drug offences. Some have fallen foul of strict drug laws in Southeast Asia, where punishments can bring life sentences or sometimes death.
The latest Kiwi to be locked up overseas is 19-year-old Anthony Prince, who was accused of robbing a bank at gunpoint in the United States last month.
In custody in Denver, Colorado, Prince and his Australian friend, Luke Carroll, face trial late this month. If found guilty they will face up to 25 years in a US prison.
Former Petone man Graham Cleghorn was jailed for 20 years in Cambodia last year after being convicted of raping teenage girls.
A New Zealand teacher, Malcolm Hatfield, 58, was also jailed for 10 years in Cambodia on charges of having sex with underage boys.
Wainuiomata grandmother Phyllis Tarawhiti is facing her 10th year in a Bangkok jail for trying to smuggle drugs out of Thailand in 1996. She was found with $4 million of heroin strapped to her body.
Her father, Joe Tarawhiti, told The Dominion Post last month that the family had little hope of an early release, despite an appeal for clemency to the Thai king.
Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry deputy secretary Rosemary Banks said New Zealand travellers should be careful not to end up in overseas jails. People should act responsibly and remember that ignorance of local laws was not a defence. Embassies overseas were able to give advice and help people find a lawyer, but unable to get involved in foreign countries' legal processes.
"One of the most basic checks before travel is to make sure you have travel insurance. The ministry's view is that if you cannot afford travel insurance, you really cannot afford to travel."