The heartbreak of Swedish mother whose son is serving a life sentence in a Thai prison for drugs offences – a story of broken lives and grim, pitiable circumstances
In 2011, Kim Eriksson Sirawan was given the death penalty in Thailand for producing and possessing methamphetamine. The young Swedish man was caught red handed by Thai police at his home in Rayong with a drugs factory and 53 grams of ice, a drug that wreaks devastation and harm on young Thai people throughout the kingdom. He was sentenced to death by a Thai court but the sentence was quickly commuted to life imprisonment. He has now served seven years in various Thai prisons including Bang Kwang, the prison known infamously as the Bangkok Hilton. His latest abode is Klong Prem, an equally feared prison near Bangkok. He is, at a point, in his very long prison sentence, where things look extremely grim and his prospects very bleak.
Sweden, along with other Nordic countries, has long impressed the rest of the world, particularly those who believe in progressive politics, with its its superior quality of life. This includes the life of prisoners convicted of crime in the country. The country’s prison system offers a regime, when seen from the outside through the lens of TV documentaries and news features, that looks relatively relaxed, comfortable and secure compared to most other countries. In Sweden, prisons are a place of reform offering, those who are convicted, the opportunity and supports to change and modify personal attitudes and become valuable members of society. The Swedish rehabilitation program is so effective that thought has been given to closing down several prisons due to the lack of inmates to fill them. There are very few prisoners actually serving life sentences in Sweden.
So when Kim Eriksson Sirawan, a Swedish citizen, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2011 by the Criminal Court of Bangkok for producing and possessing methamphetamine, also known as ‘ice’, it caused quite a stir in Sweden which has since largely subsided. Sweden doesn’t pay too much attention to a Swedish citizen who went wrong in Thailand.
Swede has had to adapt to a very hard reality – life in a Thai prison and a long way to go
Though Eriksson’s sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment due to his cooperation with Thai authorities after the death sentence was pronounced, the verdict still rendered the young man and Swedish officials who attended the trial, subdued and quiet as it was read out in a quiet Thai courtroom by a judge. There was no avoiding the harsh reality of the sentence and the grim circumstance the young, wayward Swede found himself in.
New harsher attitude to drug kingpins in Thailand
At that time, Eriksson’s defense lawyer told the press that they would appeal the sentence despite the clemency shown as the death sentence was lifted. Thailand today is in the hands of a military led government which is showing a strong determination to root out illegal drugs while contemplating some reform for low level users and certain classes of drugs. The government along with Thai public opinion takes a particular dim view of those involved in the manufacture of drugs particularly foreigners. Thailand has recently sentenced a leading foreign drug kingpin to death along with a Thai woman who acted as his accomplice. Thailand also carried out its first execution in recent years in June, stunning the international community.
Young man in a Thai jail is largely forgotten
The trial, verdict and sentence was seven years ago. In the meantime, Eriksson’s case has been forgotten, and the young Swede, despite his denials and protestations of innocence, has had no choice but to adapt to an alien prison system that bears little resemblance to its counterpart in his home country. Moved a number of times within the Thai prison system, it is reported that the young man has lost weight, is living under harsh conditions and has witnessed dangerous violence in his life behind bars. A number of online campaigns set up at the time of the sentence in Sweden have since fizzled.
Options for young Swede who finds himself in hellish nightmare in Thai prison are limited
Kim Eriksson has a number of avenues open to him to extricate himself from the nightmare position he finds himself and which, in fact, may only be beginning. Speaking with a Swedish news website in 2017, his mother indicated there was a very remote possibility that he may be able to have his case reopened but there are those who say that this route may be actually counterproductive to his situation. It is well known in Thailand that foreigners should respect the authority of the Thai judicial process and accept responsibility for the crime.
Swede must serve six or seven more years at least before he can apply for a prison transfer
The other two ways are the same options that have been open to other foreigners in similar situations in the last fifty years. The first is to apply for a Royal pardon from Thailand’s new monarch. One of the problems that Kim Eriksson seems to face is an apparent lack of support and pleading of his case and circumstances from officials and the establishment in Sweden. This is what his mother Asa indicated to the Swedish media on a visit to her son Klong Prem last December.
This might be have something to do with his attitude towards his conviction, prior convictions in Sweden and his claims that he is the victim of an international conspiracy. The second option for the Swede would be to apply to serve his sentence in the Swedish prison system under treaties that exist between Thailand and Sweden. The problem is that the legislation providing for this arrangement, which does exist between Sweden and Thailand, specifically identifies different treatment for those convicted of drug offences. Normally if a prisoner has served a third of his or her sentence or four years, they can apply for this. However in Kim’s case, this will mean one third of the life sentence and that will means waiting at least another seven years before he can apply.
Even then, the sentence he will be required to serve in Sweden will still be as long but perhaps under better and safer conditions. This appears to be the Swedish man’s best chance at this stage. In the past, foreigners have accepted their culpability, pursued this route and later qualified for and received a pardon which is solely at the discretion of the the Thai monarch. A number of prisoners in a similar situation to Eriksson’s were subsequently released from UK prisons after receiving a royal pardon from Thailand.
Swede warns, through his mother, that life in his Thai prison is getting tougher for him
Kim Eriksson is held at Klong Prem Prison, a large institution in northern Bangkok that comprises of eight building and houses 20,000 prisoners. He serves his term in Building 5 which is mainly occupied by those convicted on drug charges and related convictions. He has previously been jailed in Bang Kwang, along the Chao Phraya River, often called Bangkok Hilton. This was at an earlier stage in his prison sentence. There, it was reported he shared a cell with 60 prisoners.
Eriksson is one of the few foreign inmates at Klong Prem prison where he now occupies a cell with four other prisoners, all Thai. He has two blankets for his bed, one which he puts on the bare ground and another to cover his body. There are four other foreigners in the drugs section of the prison. The block houses Kim as well as a German and an Australian national, both also doing time for serious drug offences.
A Swedish mother’s visit to Klong Prem to speak to her son in a noisy public environment
Prisoners in building 5 are allowed to receive visitors only on a Thursday. Sometimes it is Eriksson’s mother and other family members from Sweden that visit him. Once in a while, however, it is Swedish embassy officials. But now life in prison is getting tougher, he claims. His mother has claimed in an interview with a Swedish media outlet that the prison regime at Klong Prem has gotten stricter since the the military government came to power. This may be subjective as reports in Thailand suggest that Thailand’s prison regime has, in some ways become easier. However it also be that under a military government there is stricter discipline. The anxious mother described visiting the prison after her flight from Sweden to be told that visiting hours have been cancelled. At the next opportunity she reports that she has had to conduct her conversation with her son separated by partitions in a noisy ‘screaming’ atmosphere as previous, more private facilities afforded to visiting embassy officials had not been made available to her.
Swede laments inability to read books in Thai prison
Eriksson’s claims that as a prisoner he now has less freedom. He claims that from three in the afternoon he, along with his fellow inmates, are locked in prison cells and are not released again until seven o’clock next day. He explained to a Swedish reporter: ‘We will have our last meal for the day two o’clock,’ he said. ‘We do not get anything under 16 hours a day! No food. No fruit. Just water when we need.’ Eriksson’s family are reported to pay the prison for a better diet, which results in more nutritious meals and bigger servings for the young Swedish man. However there are still many inconveniences and it is a harsh regime for the Swede. One of his key complaints is a lack of access to books. In the past, Kim is reported to have been able to spend his time reading books. ‘We cannot have books anymore. Meanwhile we are locked in the cell there is nothing to do,’ he says from inside his Thai prison.
Foreigners must heed cautionary tale of Swedish man whose life has been lost to drugs
And so, perhaps thinking about a possible transfer to more comfortable prison standards back in Sweden, Kim Eriksson continues his stay behind bars in Thailand with no real possibility of release anytime soon. There is no doubt, from all reports, that conditions in Thai prisons are tough and demanding. However a number of western prisoners, including two famous cases of an British woman and man, both unrelated and convicted for seperate drugs offences and at different times, who indicated after their release in the UK that they regretted moving back to the UK prison system and preferred their time behind bars in Thailand. Both seemed to describe a more casual regime than we hear about from Kim Eriksson. The truth is probably somewhere in between but there is no denying the severity of the young man’s plight.
Swede’s story a stark warning to foreign drug pushers
The Swedish man’s case stands, along with other foreigners now in Thai prison and those who find themselves on death row, as a stark warning for foreign visitors who come to Thailand with the intention of dealing and using drugs. Eriksson was, in fact, lucky not to have been facing the death penalty as one foreign kingpin now does. Fate hasn’t been so kind to various foreigners convicted in other Asian countries for serious drug offences in the last few decades who have paid the ultimate price. The Thai military government is cracking down on drug gangs and supply networks and it may transpire in the future that some won’t automatically have a death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in a Thai jail.
Sentiment in Thailand today is firmly against drug dealers. Last June Thailand de facto reinstated the death penalty as a deterrent when it unexpectedly executed a Thai man for murder in a robbery gone wrong. Currently there are already a number of foreigners on death row in Thailand for murder and drug related crimes. When Eriksson was convicted in 2011, his death sentence was reduced immediately to life imprisonment as Thai judge cited his cooperation with authorities.
Difficult to have too much sympathy for Kim Eriksson
It is difficult to have sympathy for Kim Eriksson. From the outset the Swedish man has refused to take responsibility for his actions. The Swede had previous criminal convictions even before he arrived in Thailand in 2007. It is difficult not to reach a conclusion that here is a westerners who lacks respect for Thai law and customs quite apart for the despicable crime he was convicted for. Since his conviction in 2011 he has claimed that there was a mysterious partner responsible for the enterprise. After his conviston in 2011 his lawyers often mentioned a mysterious Mr. Thomas Lilius as they vowed to appeal the Swedish man’s case to the Court of Appeal. In recent times there has even been spurious talk of the involvement of Swedish authorities and the American Drug Enforcement Authority.
A mother’s pain makes the case of Kim Eriksson more than his glib, irresponsible claims
Perhaps the greatest testimony to Kim Eriksson’s plight is the pain that has been inflicted on his 57 years old mother, who lives in Sweden and visits him regularly. At the end of last year she visited him in Klong Prem prison and even as she explained the plight of her son and her attempts to the deal with the unimaginable horror of the situation, one can see the case for some mercy and respite for Mr Eriksson even for the sake of his ageing mother and young daughter. But this is entirely a matter for Thai authorities to determine.
Swedish mother flies into Bangkok to visit Kim at Klong Prem and cope with the prison regime
In December 2017 Eriksson’s mother Asa was interviewed after she had arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Sweden. She had flown in from Sundsvall in Sweden where she lives. She makes the trip at least once a year. The mother had mixed emotions as she headed for the prison to visit her son. She described feeling sorry for her son and worried for his position. She explained that she even worries every time she visits him that may be for the last time.
She also expressed exasperation at the Thai prison authorities. She decried the fact that prison visits are often cancelled and even suggested that there was once some issue with her dress and clothing not being appropriate because of how much skin she showed. ‘I don’t want to break down in front of him,’ she emotionally explained to a Swedish reporter prior to entering Klong Prem prison to see her son.
Swedish man’s former Thai wife living in Sweden weds her new Swedish lover in Thailand
To add to the mother’s anxiety and confusion, one of the reasons she was in Thailand for the trip was for the marriage of her sons former Thai partner and mother of her granddaughter and Kim’s daughter to another Swede. Both the bride to be and new Swedish husband were living in Kim’s home town of Sundsvall in Sweden. We were told that the new Swedish husband had visited Kim in his Thai prison and it is the first aspect of this story that evokes the pitiable fate of the young Swedish man. His mother described visits to the prison by Kim’s young seven year old daughter who was only months old in 2011 when her father was sentenced to death and had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Mother’s suffering makes her another victim
In her confession of her grief and pain, it is not all difficult to be sympathetic to Kim Eriksson’s mother. She explained that her son had seen a Thai prisoner who had his throat cut in front of him while standing a few feet away. She feels that the regime has got stricter since the military took control in Thailand but it is easy to see that this can be the lack of control the mother has and fears which are magnified especially through lack of information and ability to communicate. She did not speak Thai and for a Swedish mother Thailand, it is perhaps quite an alien country. The torment the woman is suffering was clear. She is another victims of her son’s crime for which he must take responsibility.