Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Drugs In Southeast Asia: Death to the Dealer

Drugs in Southeast Asia

The death penalty being administered in Vietnam. 
If you hear stories from folks who were in Southeast Asia during the late 60s, it is a time much like it was in the USA and Europe . . . drugs, sex, and rock and roll (as well as multiple raging wars--so not exactly like the West). While there is still sex and rock and roll aplenty, in many Southeast Asian countries while drugs are readily available, they bring the danger of death—and not just from overdose, unless hanging is an overdose of rope or death by firing squad is an overdose of lead.  

Drug Laws in Southeast Asia

Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand (yes, Thailand), Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines all have death sentences on the books for either possession or distribution of drugs. Cambodia, which after the horrors the Khmer Rouge abolished the death penalty, still has strict laws that carry potentially decades-long sentences for possession or distribution.

Drug Laws in Malaysia and Singapore

In Malaysia and Singapore, death by hanging is mandatory for anyone caught with at least 17 ounces of marijuana or half an ounce of cocaine or heroin. Just this week in Malaysia a technician of a health and beauty products company was sentenced to death for trafficking in 1.1kg of cannabis by the High Court there. Don't think that because you are a foreign national that somehow the law does not apply to you: figures released by the government of Singapore show that between 1993 to 2003, 36% of those executed were foreigners.

Drug Laws in Cambodia

In 1998 Cannabis Culture described Cambodia as a "smokers paradise."  In 2008, Monster's & Critics reported "the high times are changing."  Those changes have continued.  Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen approved a controversial new drug law in July, 2011.  It will force drug users in the Asian nation into involuntary treatment for up to two years. Most of those who are detained will find themselves in facilities where detainees report that beatings, forced labor, and rape are commonplace.  In fact, there has already been public outcry and reports of such events occurring.  This is on top of the already draconian prison sentences than can be imposed.  Within the past few months a Swedish man and his Vietnamese wife were arrested for possession.  He is facing a possible life sentence as it is alleged he had an intent to distribute.  

Drug Laws in Indonesia

Indonesian drug laws prescribe the death penalty for narcotics trafficking and up 20 years in prison for marijuana offenses. Possession alone can result in a five year prison sentence. In 2009 Samuel Okoye and Hansen Nwaolisa, Nigerian nationals, were executed after trying to smuggle narcotics into the country. In Indonesia, like Vietnam and Laos, all death sentences are carried out by firing squad.

Drug Laws in Laos

In Laos, also, the death penalty is dealt out for trafficking. In 2009, Samantha Orobator, a British national, was spared death by firing squad but only because she was pregnant—Laos law prohibits the execution of pregnant women.  Otherwise, Samantha would have died as pictured above.  Samantha was later returned to the UK—however, she will serve her life sentence behind bars there.  Her mother is raising her child.

Drug Laws in Thailand 

Many think of Thailand as a place where one can “hang loose,” and on the whole this is certainly the case. But Thailand does have a death penalty for serious drug offenses and has executed convicted traffickers. However, the US State Department reports the following:

The U.S. Embassy frequently does not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses, particularly in southern Thailand, until several days after the incident. If you are arrested for a minor drug offense, you may be jailed for several weeks while lab testing is done on the drugs seized with you. Pre-trial jail conditions may be more severe than prison conditions.
Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the IDs of all customers in the establishment and then make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. Foreigners are not excused from these checks, and anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs is arrested and charged. Although some Thai civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced urine tests, the Embassy is unaware of any successful challenge to the practice

Currently, there are thought to be about 200-300 Westerners serving time in Thai prisons, almost all of them on drug-related sentences. Some Westerners have been sentenced to death, but overwhelmingly these have received commuted sentences—but whether 30 years in Bang Kwang Prison or Klong Prem Prison is better than death is debatable. 

Drug Laws in the Philippines  

The Philippines currently has a moratorium on the death penalty, meaning that while on the books, and while there are people on death role, it is not be carried out at present. However, penalties are still severe – the minimum sentence is 12 years in prison for possession of less than a quarter ounce of illegal drugs. Timor-Leste also does not appear to enforce death penalties for drugs, but they mirror Indonesian law's harshness.

And just in case you are warning--you also don't want to get caught with drugs in Myanmar.  While a top drug exporter, it will also execute those caught in possession or trafficking drugs, although like Thailand it has been hesitant to execute Westerners on such charges.
Albeit that there are harsh drug penalties, drugs like shabu-shabu--meth--heroin, cocaine and cannabis as well Ecstasy and Ecstasy-like drugs are readily available in tourist hot-stops like Koh Samui, Bangkok, Ho Chi Mihn and Siem Reap, they come with a risk.  And while Westernerns in their home countries may risk jobs, reputations, and even years of their lives, without a needle most don't risk their lives.  Be aware, though, in Southeast Asia you aren't home, and your passport won't protect you or grant you any legal privileges. 


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