Thai King pardons Dutch drug smugglers
22 January 2004
AMSTERDAM — Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej has granted a pardon to two drug smugglers from the Netherlands as Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot confirmed startling progress in talks aimed at signing a prisoner-exchange treaty.
Human rights group Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned the treatment of prisoners in the South-East Asian nation.
The pardons came as Minister Bot prepared to meet with his Thai colleague and the Thai Justice Minister on Thursday in ongoing diplomatic efforts to reach a treaty allowing Dutch detainees to serve out part of their sentence in the Netherlands.
Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Willem-Alexander are also in Thailand for a five-day State visit to officially mark 400-years of ties between the two nations, but the monarch had also been expected to discuss an extradition treaty with Thai authorities. She engaged in private talks with King Bhumibol.
The prisoners to be granted a pardon — both of whom requested such a ruling — were sentenced in 1993 and 1995 to 40 and 50-years jail respectively, news agency ANP reported on Thursday.
A pastor with the Epafras foundation — which works to assist Dutch nationals detained in foreign nations — identified the two men as Pedro Ruyzing and George Ofosuhene, who was sentenced in 1993 for the smuggling of hard drugs.
Their identities have not been officially confirmed, but the pastor also said Ruyzing, 45, of The Hague, was sentenced in 1995 for heroin smuggling. The taxi driver has served eight years in the infamous Bangkwang prison and because he does not have a lawyer, the man is handling his own defence.
Minister Bot — who said the two men will probably be released next week — also announced that should detainee Machiel Kuijt appeal for a dismissal of his life-sentence — as expected — he could expect an accelerated procedure.
After being acquitted on drugs charges in March 2002, Kuijt was convicted and sentenced on appeal late last year. He has been in a Thai prison since his arrest in 1997, but stands a chance to return home to the Netherlands once the prisoner-exchange treaty has been signed.
Bot also raised hopes that two Dutch nationals of Chinese ancestry — both of whom were arrested in 2000 and sentenced to death — could soon have their sentences commuted to life in prison. Of note is that the Dutch ambassador in Thailand said that Thai death sentences are rarely carried out.
But if the men have their death sentences commuted into life, it is also possible that they will be repatriated to jail in the Netherlands.
It was reported on Monday that the prisoner-exchange treaty was not expected to be finalised before the end of the week due to legal stumbling blocks. But the speed of progress made in the past few days is surprising and Minister Bot now believes the treaty is within hands’ reach.
Such a treaty could allow detainees sentenced to long jail terms to return home to the Netherlands once they have served eight years in Thailand. This means that Kuijt might be allowed to return home next year, Dutch public news service NOS reported.
The Christian Democrat CDA minister also said earlier this week that Thai authorities would need to offer the Dutch certain concessions. Dutch sentences are much lighter than those imposed in Thailand and it is thus possible that the treaty might allow for Dutch authorities to release detainees upon their return to the Netherlands, Radio 1 Journal reported.
There are currently 15 Dutch nationals serving time in the Thai prison system, which was condemned last year by Amnesty International for regular human rights breaches, such as torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
A Thai delegation visited the Netherlands last November to discuss an extradition treaty and besides his meetings with Thai government ministers, Bot was also meeting with the highest legal advisor to the Thai king this week. He was scheduled to fly home later on Thursday.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news