Chiangrai Central Prison is located a few kilometers west of Chiangrai city in northern Thailand
on the southern bank of the Mae Kok River.
Chiangrai Province has the largest population of Akha hilltribe people in Thailand. However,
they make up at least 12% of the inmates in this prison, which is a much larger proportion
than in the general population.
On 11th March 2004, according to prison officials there were 3,332 male an 1,323 female
prisoners at the prison. Of these 379 men and 75 women were recorded as Akha. However,
there were more Akha, but they were recorded as coming from Myanmar, Laos or China, and
not specifically as Akha. Some of the 262 men and 51 women listed as coming from Myanmar
were certainly Akha. Thus on 11th March officials acknowledged that Akha prisoners held in
this facility were upward of 412 men and 130 women. On 14th January 2004, prison officials
said there were at least 416 male and 217 female Akha prisoners.
Part of the problem for prison officials is caused by the difficulty hilltribe people face to obtain
identity papers. Thus official numbers for hilltribe prisoners are not accurate, and quite likely to
On 11th March 2004, the following figures for other hilltribe prisoners were provided by prison
Lahu : 153 men, 45 women.
Some hilltribe prisoners are held at this prison for 45 days on minor drugs charges. Thus there
is a large turnover, with some prisoners returning repeatedly. Others have sentences of up to
33 years. Most are drugs cases.
Hmong : 57 men, 33 women.
Yao : 55 men, 39 women.
Lisaw : 43 men, 10 women.
Karen : 2 men, 2 women.
Lists of hilltribe prisoners are not included in this report due to their large numbers at Chiangrai
Central Prison. However, details of a few cases will be given below.
Jalae Akha and Lahu village is situated in a valley north-west of Chiangrai city. It was relocated
from the hills about 6 years ago. The villagers now have insufficient land for subsistence
farming. At the village in March 2004 I met Yu Mee, an Akha woman whose father had been
arrested with a tiny quantity of opium in the village. She and her family did not have enough
money to visit, or take food and clothes, to him in the prison.
Yu Mee's father, Aa Chu Law Sai, and the friend he was arrested with, Ah Byo, were
imprisoned for 45 days. His absence was causing the already impoverished family yet more
stress and hardship. Let 's understand that opium is a natural pain-killer, which is readily
available to these poor villagers who cannot afford expensive, manufactured drugs.
A Lahu woman, Yaphu, from the same village of Jalae was also imprisoned at the same time.
Another Lahu woman, Yota Aitoo, was imprisoned in January for possessing yaba. Police had
taken her sister's pickup truck and were demanding 20,000 baht (about 500 dollars) for its
return, although her sister had nothing to do with the case.
Yee No Sakul (Johny Ah Yin), a 38-year-old Akha man, was arrested at the Maesai border on
22nd May 2003. Thai police charged him with involvement in drugs. He is now in Chiangrai
Central Prison block 3, floor 4, room 12, awaiting trial. He left four children behind in Tachileik,
just across the border in Myanmar. His wife, Ah Ming Sae Wang, was arrested a few years
ago. She is now in Lard Yao prison, Bangkok. Their children are being taken care of by their
relatives. This puts their family under great financial strain. Johny was desperately in need of
clothes and food at the prison as none of his family could cross the border to visit him.
Sila No Sakul (Mi Ngae), a 35-year-old Lahu woman, also comes from Tachileik. Myanmar.
She was arrested at Maesai in 1995 with 10,000 yaba pills. For this she received a 13- year
sentence. Sila spent 2 years at Lard Yao and 6 years at Chiangrai Central Prison, where she
is now held in block 4, room 10. Her 17-year-old daughter and brother have not been able to
visit her. Sila does excellent sewing work in the prison, but gets paid hardly anything for it.
Kansada Rung Udom Sombat (Mee Lawh Maw Pogu), a 32-year-old Akha woman from
Phamee village, Thailand, was arrested in 1993 with 5 kilogrammes of heroin. She received a
25-year sentence, which was later reduced to 20 years on a king's pardon. She spent 7 years
at Lard Yao prison and 4 years at Chiangrai Central Prison, where she is now held in block 4,
Kansada tells her own story: "I have five sisters. I'm the eldest. My family is poor and cannot
keep us. My father took drugs. I could not study because I had to take care of my sisters. I
thought a lot about what I could do to help my poor family. I wanted to have everything like
others have. So I did this heroin business to get money."
These cases reveal that a vicious cycle of impoverishment and drugs is at work amongst the
hilltribe people. Village relocations, cultural disruption and the blatant exploitation of hilltribe
minorities, often under the guise of anti-drugs policies, pushes these people deeper into
poverty and thus more likely to turn to such desperate means of survival as drugs use and
trafficking. Anti-drugs policies have proved to be an abysmal failure in stemming the flow of
drugs. Yet they have proved to be an effective excuse for state interference into the lives,
livelihoods and freedom of hilltribe people to make their own decisions. Surely the time has
come for a complete reapraisal of failed drugs policies, and the granting of such basic human
rights to hilltribe people as their right to land to carry on their traditional subsistence farming.
There are six blocks in Chiangrai Central Prison. Block 4 is for women. Visits are allowed
mornings and early afternoons from Monday to Friday, except on holidays, and are restricted
to 30 minutes.
The following address can be used to write to prisoners.
Their name, followed by block, floor and room number if known,
Include whether they are in the men's or women's sections written at the top.
ADDRESS FORMAT :
P.O. Box 221,
Chiangrai Central Prison,
Chiangrai, THAILAND 57000