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NZer spends 9 years in Bangkok jail, 26 to go

By SOPHIE NEVILLE

While accused drug trafficker Australian Schapelle Corby awaits her fate at the hands of a Bali court, a Wainuiomata grandmother is facing her 10th year in a Bangkok jail with little hope of release soon.

Phyllis Tarawhiti was sentenced to death after trying to leave Thailand with $4 million worth of heroin strapped to her body in 1996. The sentence was reduced to 50 years after she pleaded guilty. After an appeal it was cut to 35 years.

Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokesman Brad Tattersfield says there is new information but he cannot discuss it without her permission.

Tarawhiti's father, Joe, said the case of Corby, 27, had brought back memories of his daughter's ordeal. Corby, a former beauty student from the Gold Coast who may also face a death sentence, has denied smuggling 4.1 kilograms of cannabis into Bali in October. Mr Tarawhiti visited his daughter at Bangkok's Lad Yao Women's Correction Centre this year. For the first time he took one of her daughters, who had not seen her mother since she left almost 10 years ago, aged 38.

He said yesterday that early release was "probably just a dream". However, an Australian woman had been freed from the jail after 10 years so the approaching anniversary had brought some hope.

It had been good to see his daughter whose actions 10 years ago had been "crazy and stupid" and she seemed as well as could be expected. "She's got to try to be happy, there's not much she can do about it."

She spent a lot of time getting to know her daughter now 26 again.

Tarawhiti's fate is in the hands of the Thai king, who occasionally grants pardons at celebrations, such as his birthday and New Year. Unlike Australia, which has a prisoner transfer treaty with Thailand, the New Zealand Government gets involved only when a person has served a term similar to what would have been served here.

In 2001, after letters of support were gathered from the family, including her three children and father, the Government handed a plea for clemency on behalf of Tarawhiti to Thai officials.

An article published in 2002 quoted a letter from Tarawhiti as saying: "I'm so ashamed, it's been so painful for my family."

Whangarei lawyer Roger Bowden who visited Tarawhiti in 2003 described the jail as "terrible, harsh and grossly, grossly crowded".

He offered her legal help but Tarawhiti turned it down for fear it could damage her chances of a pardon. But she seemed resigned and said: "I did it, so I'll have to serve this out".

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff