Expatica news

Prisoners’ plight focus of royal visit to Thailand

19 January 2004

AMSTERDAM — Amid ongoing concern for Dutch prisoners in Thailand and diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving an extradition treaty, Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Willem-Alexander arrived in the South-East Asian nation on Monday for a five-day State visit.

The Queen and her eldest son arrived on a royal charter jet KBX at the Don Muang royal air force base, near the Thai capital Bangkok. The royals were given a ceremonial welcome by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, news agency ANP reported.

The state visit comes as the Dutch ambassador to Thailand dismissed criticism that not enough was being done to help Dutch prisoners in Thai jails. Inmates receive a monthly visit and are also provided with medical care, the diplomat said.

The plight of Dutch prisoners in Thai jails has been the subject of much debate in recent months as diplomatic negotiations continue between the Dutch and Thai governments.

There are 15 Dutch nationals in Thai prisons — most of whom are being detained for drugs crimes — and it is hoped that a treaty between the two nations will be signed in the near future, allowing them to serve out the remainder of their sentence in a Dutch institution.

The most well-known Dutch prisoner in Thailand is Machiel Kuijt, who lodged  a last ditch appeal for freedom late last year after he was convicted on appeal and sentenced to life in prison on drugs charges.

Kuijt was not carrying drugs at the time of his 1997 arrest and was acquitted in March 2002 of allegations he was involved in the heroin trade. He remained in prison, however, to await the prosecution’s appeal and Thai authorities claimed new evidence warranted his recent conviction and life sentence.

Amnesty International said in November 2003 that despite “progress in the protection of human rights, abuses in the (Thai) criminal justice system have persisted. These include torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in pre-trial detention and in the prison system”.

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot is also part of the delegation visiting Thailand this week and will hold talks on Thursday with his Thai counterpart in the hope of reaching an extradition treaty, Radio Netherlands reported.

But a spokesperson for the minister said there was still a lot of work to be done before a treaty could be reached. Legal matters must still be discussed, such as the difference in Thai and Dutch prison sentences. A treaty is not expected to be reached before the end of the visit.

The Queen is also expected to discuss with Thai authorities the plight of Dutch nationals detained in the nation’s jails.

Both Queen Beatrix and Prince Willem-Alexander were scheduled to enter private talks with the Thai King and Queen Sirikit later on Monday. They were also expected to visit the famed Temple of the Emerald Buddha and engage in a state dinner in the royal palace.

The visit comes as Dutch and Thai officials observe the 400-year anniversary of relations. The first contact between both nations occurred in 1604, when representatives from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were officially invited for a visit by the King of Siam.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest serving monarch, visited the Netherlands in 1960, while Queen Juliana visited Thailand in 1963 with Prince Bernhard and their daughter, the then Princess Beatrix.

Princess Maxima, the wife of Willem-Alexander, is not accompanying her husband to Thailand and is instead staying in the Netherlands to care for the couple’s baby daughter, Princess Amalia. The future Dutch queen was born on 7 December.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news