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A tomboy prisoner wanted the hairclip, so that was it. She got it

Behind Bars With Woman Who Sold Her Daughters

Saturday, April 19, 2014
PHUKET: If anyone spots my pretty red hairclip, they will probably be on the wrong side of the walls at Phuket Prison. That's where my precious adornment, a gift from a friend, is likely to be today.

A tomboy in the cell for women under Phuket Provincial Court demanded to have it, so I had no choice. I handed it over.

Being held a prisoner on Phuket is no fun.

The outlook had seemed brighter when my Phuketwan colleague Alan Morison and I arrived at Phuket Provincial Court earlier on Thursday. Almost all of Phuket's media outlets, with a couple of minor exceptions, were represented there.

They swarmed towards the car as we pulled up, filming and snapping.

Journalists are supposed to report events. We never will get used to being the celebrities of criminal defamation.

Outside the court, one senior journalist representing all Phuket media presented me with a white rose.

It was a touching moment, and a sign that all of Phuket's media, apart from those two minor exceptions, understand the obvious need to fight for media freedom.

Waiting for us beyond the media pack are representatives from Associated Press, Reuters and Voice of America, plus an envoy from the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, two observers from Phuket's Muslim community who have come to pay their respects, and Kulachada Chaipipat, campaign manager of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

Before we can enter the court building, Phuket's new senator-elect, Chaiyot Punyawai, comes over and we have a long catch-up chat. A lawyer, Khun Chaiyot was among the first to realise the injustice of our case and offered to represent us soon after the charges were laid in December.

Then he suddenly had to fight an election, so instead today we are represented by four lawyers from Bangkok. Like many other lawyers in Thailand, they are keen to see the Computer Crimes Act and criminal defamation laws killed off.

The following day, we learn later, we are on the front pages of Thai-language newspapers. Before long, all of Thailand will understand that Thailand's reputation is being tarnished by this misguided action by a respected organisation, the Royal Thai Navy.

If the admirals are wise, there's still time for them to fix this mistake.

INSIDE the court, our paperwork is fixed in the foyer, without the need to enter a courtroom. An application for bail is presented. We then are obliged to become prisoners of the court.

An official asks if we want to wait in the staff room, where conditions are good. ''No thanks,'' I say. ''We want to be treated just like other prisoners.''

Under the court we go, where the chief jailer, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, signs us in and guides us to the cells.

This is a grim place.

The women are locked in one cell, the men further inside in a cell that has a mesh over the bars, just to make sure there can be no bars rattling.

In the women's cell there are nine other prisoners, all dressed in beige and brown prison uniforms. I learn later that the number in the mens' cell increases from 36 or 37 to almost 90 as the hours pass, and I am grateful not to be in such a crowded place.

The women also do not wear shackles around their dainty ankles. The tomboy taking my hairclip starts everyone talking, and I find out what conditions are like in Phuket Prison.

The jail is hugely overcrowded, say all the women, with so little space that women and men have to lie on their sides at night so everyone has room to sleep on the floor.

''At night, there is not room for anyone to settle on their back,'' one woman tells me. ''You have room to sleep on your side. And if one person wants to roll over to the other side, everyone must roll over at the same time.''

We work out on the floor of the cell how much space each prisoner has to sleep in the jail, where 2700 inmates now occupy a facility built for 750. The space is frighteningly small, like I guess conditions must have been when people were packed into slave ships. No good wasting money on people who break the law seems to be the rule.

There are four toilets in the court cell for the women but, I am told later, only two for 10 times the number of men. The squat toilets have waist-high doors. There is no toilet paper.

One of the women is in tears. No food or drink is provided officially between 10.30 and 3.30. The men do not seem to be as good at providing for their women behind bars as the woman are at providing for their men behind bars.

I hear a man's voice from outside, calling out: ''Khun Oi! Are you ok?'' I shout back and before long we have water bottles and iced tea cans delivered, and sharing the drinks earns me gentle appreciation.

Later comes food from another friend on the outside.

''What have you been charged with?'' one woman asks.

''Defaming the Royal Thai Navy.''

''You think you're gonna win? I don't think so.''

''Well, we will see. Perhaps I will end up in jail.''

''Try to avoid it if you can. Everything in jail is terrible.''

One inmate tells me she was nabbed last month with 33 kilos of kratom, a natural leaf that's illegal because of its potency when mixed with other substances.

''It was a good business,'' she said. ''We bought kratom leaves in Surat, Nakorn or Krabi, and brought them onto Phuket. We paid 900 baht a kilo and sold the leaves for 1500 baht a kilo.

''Burmese love kratom with energy drinks and mixed with other stuff. The local kids are getting into it more, too. Ya bah and ya ice are too expensive for teenagers.

''We could sell 200 kilos a day and that wouldn't be enough on Phuket.''

One of the other women has an even more disturbing tale to tell for those who only see Phuket's west coast and the tourist beaches.

''All my family has been arrested,'' the woman tells me. How did that happen?

''I worked as a mamasan from home,'' she says. ''When police raided our place about two years ago, they arrested all of us.''

Two young women in the cells are the mamasan's daughters. One of them was working as a prostitute at the age of 13. Another younger daughter and a son are in the juvenile detention centre, at Saphan Hin in Phuket City.

Her husband, who now works as a chef at a resort, was arrested but freed because there was no evidence linking him to the brothel business. He is caring for the youngest daughter at home.

''We would have young students coming to see us and offering to work with us all the time,'' the mamasan said. ''Parents really need to look at what their children get up to these days.

''They all want the latest smartphone or the price of tickets to the cinema. College students especially are keen to make extra money. Many people don't know this happens.''

I go to the toilet. But first, I ask a woman to be lookout. Men standing on benches in the cell next door can see down into the women's toilets.

There is also some communication between the two cells. The men call out: ''Tell us, what is the farang guy in the white shirt and tie in for?''

Curiosity is universal. Information means power.

''We are being sued by the Royal Thai Navy,'' I call back.

''Hooo, that's big, big. You play with the big guys.''

''No, the big guys are playing with us.''

It seems we are both celebrities of sorts, outside and in.

Later I learn that my colleague finds himself in the cell sitting alongside Stein Dokset, the Norwegian who has become well known on Phuket because of the body in the bin killing. He has an interesting story to tell.

We are out at 3.30pm, once the paperwork is completed. It's a relief. Five hours on the inside is plenty long enough for me.

As the cell door swings shut behind me, my fellow inmates wave goodbye. ''Don't come back again!'' one shouts.

In Part II, Alan Morison relates what it was like hanging out with Mr Dokset and about 90 others in a crowded court cell.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Sorry you had the experience but an excellent piece of writing. Well done.

Posted by Martin on April 19, 2014 06:38

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Excellent article K Chutima. Written from your heart. Thank you I can sense the smells and the atmosphere.

Posted by Robin on April 19, 2014 09:48

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nice to see some one speaking what's really going

Posted by capt canada on April 19, 2014 10:03

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Good read.

Posted by Jake on April 19, 2014 10:31

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Awesome report, Chutima! Great job. I hope that you never have to go through that again, but if things go the wrong way next month then I expect to see all of the world's leading news people her to support you both.

This means you, Reuters!

Posted by Andrea on April 19, 2014 12:03

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Great report and not a nice experience , especially bearing in mind the likelihood of going back . It defies any sort of belief that this action would continue against you guys considering the rest of the worlds opinion . You made this point "The men do not seem to be as good at providing for their women behind bars as the woman are at providing for their men behind bars. " that would be par for the course whether in jail or not I would think .

Posted by Pwin on April 19, 2014 12:54

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great report

Posted by Michael on April 19, 2014 14:25

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That was very good, thank you for telling us your story.

Posted by Aaron on April 19, 2014 15:05

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Excellent report, indeed, Khun Chutima. Your fine reporting and continued grace under very difficult conditions will hopefully inspire others to pursue real journalism as a career.

And a good call out, Andrea. So where are you, Reuters?

Posted by Treelover on April 19, 2014 15:40

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Strange twist of fate department remember when Ed @ Khun Chutima used to report the news now they are the news,hopefully the next news will be charges dismissed!

Posted by slickmelb on April 19, 2014 18:02

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Excellent article. Nice hair clip, but I'd've parted with it too ! Good luck.

Posted by James on April 19, 2014 21:20

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For every Tom ( boy ) in Chutima's cell, there were a couple of Dick and Harry's in Alan's, while the Three Stooges ( Navy, Reuter's and the Phuket Prosecutor) looked on from safer quarters. Keep your humor Alan and Chutima, and hopefully very soon, you can look back at all this malarKEY and have a good laugh.

Posted by Dean on April 19, 2014 21:42

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good insight into some of the ills of society.

Posted by mikey on April 19, 2014 21:53

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Great article. Where can I send u a new hairclip?

Posted by Lena on April 20, 2014 00:54

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My heart goes out to the journalists who have been prosecuted for reporting on the diabolical treatment of the royhingya people i applaud their courage and i hope that the Thai government will also see the importance on freedom of the press which only benefits the whole of the human race by bringing any atrocities that any person, race or individual is suffering. As a mainly Buddhist country, i would have thought that fellow Buddhists would welcome this?

Posted by Mr wolf on April 20, 2014 04:01

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My heart goes out to the journalists who have been prosecuted for reporting on the diabolical treatment of the royhingya people i applaud their courage and i hope that the Thai government will also see the importance on freedom of the press which only benefits the whole of the human race by bringing any atrocities that any person, race or individual is suffering. As a mainly Buddhist country, i would have thought that fellow Buddhists would welcome this?

Posted by Mr wolf on April 20, 2014 04:01

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Very well done, great writing. Like most sane folks, we're behind you and Alan 100%. The Royal Thai Navy should reconsider and drop all charges - for their own good, as well as yours. If it's any comfort, the whole world's watching. All best.

Posted by Jim Coyne on April 20, 2014 08:35

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Jim, and all the others who understand the importance of the issue for Thailand.

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you have written an excellent article but you must also take care of yourself. Principles are great but know when to stand by them, for the sake of you and your family. God bless you

Posted by Ron on April 22, 2014 05:20

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When do we get to see Part II of your feature re your time in the cells, Mr Morison?

Posted by Phil on April 22, 2014 11:11

Editor Comment:

Soon as it's written, it will be up.


Sunday December 17, 2017
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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