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Hilltribes in Thai Prisons
27-5-2006 Attached are two photographs from Chiang Rai Central Prison in Northern Thailand. The first shows Akha hilltribe men and women inmates in native dress during New Year celebrations. The second photograph is of Arnyoe Yersaw's Akha family visiting him in prison recently.

Hilltribe prisoners at Chiang Rai Central Prison whom I've visited say that conditions at the prison have improved, and are better than at other prisons in Thailand. Of the approximate 4,000 inmates, more than 50% are hilltribe people.

Conditions at Lard Yao women's prison in Bangkok have deteriorated even more this year from the already overcrowded situation and strict regime of previous years. There are serious delays with mail sent to prisoners getting in and out, far worse than at other prisons. Construction is now going on in the visitor's area, making already poor visiting conditions even worse.

There are now 25 Akha hilltribe women at Bangkok Women's prison, and many Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Yao and other hilltribes, as well as many women from Myanmar. One Akha woman has a baby with her in prison, and not enough milk to feed her baby. One Lahu woman in the prison's sickroom is blind and cannot walk properly.

Mee Ju, a young Akha woman in Lard Yao, studied law and graduated last year while in prison. She is now writing a petition to the King on behalf of hilltribe prisoners.

Many hilltribe men are imprisoned in Klong Prem, Bangkwang, Klong Pai, Youth Central Prison in Pathumthani, and other prisons very far away from their homes where their families have no chance to visit them.

On a visit to Klong Pai Prison hilltribe inmates told me that conditions had improved a little over recent years. However, there appears to be a big problem with HIV infection amongst inmates, and no medicines to treat it. An Akha man, Rattanachai Kiatshie, works as an assistant in the prison hospital. Moses Saengpo, from Wa State, Myanmar, is in the hospital with AIDS. He is in a very weak condition. About 50 inmates in the hospital have HIV/AIDS. About 30 have TB, and there is one case of leprosy.

In such desperate conditions prisoners are now awaiting the 60th anniversary of the King of Thailand's reign on 9th June when an amnesty for prisoners is widely anticipated. Two years ago I sent a petition on behalf of hilltribe prisoners to the King, and I received an acknowledgement from the King's Office. Hopefully there will soon be some good news, and some free prisoners.

With a present prison population of about 350,000 in Thai prisons conditions are very overcrowded. Over 80% of cases involve drugs. A large increase in the prison population came a few years ago with Prime Minister Taksin Shinawatra's aggresive "war on drugs". Officials admit that a large number of inmates are actually innocent of charges against them. We hope that as the Ministry of Justice works out the present political mess, it also straightens out the application of justice for people in Thailand.

Paul Hunt 27-5-2006

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