Concerns eased as AIDS prisoner wins pardon
By HEDLEY THOMAS
MEDICAL concerns of prison officers asked to escort an AIDS patient back to Hong Kong from a Thai jail have been eased after the man was released by a royal pardon.
An official at the British Embassy in Bangkok, which represents the interests of more than 100 Hong Kong prisoners in Thailand, said the surprise gesture by King Bhumibol had been relayed on the 'diplomatic grapevine'.
The Security Branch in Hong Kong has also been informally advised of the unconditional release of the man, 37, due to his deteriorating medical condition.
A branch official, Tony Fung Kai-ming, said the Hong Kong Government was not aware of any other HIV-carrying Hong Kong prisoners incarcerated in Thailand, but their condition would only be diagnosed if they showed obvious symptoms.
The pardon means the man, who has family in Hong Kong, served less than half his 20-year sentence for heroin trafficking.
The spectre of AIDS in Thai prisons has loomed large in the past year and a number of inmates infected with the virus or displaying symptoms of full-blown AIDS have been released in a bid to prevent a wider spread through the system.
Six months ago, the South China Morning Post revealed how the man had been waiting three years for a transfer to a Hong Kong prison to see loved ones before he dies.
His right to return to Hong Kong to serve the balance of the sentence handed down in late 1986 is enshrined in an international 'humanitarian' treaty, but his and many other cases had become bogged down in bureaucratic procedure.
Even a Security Branch request earlier this year that the AIDS prisoner's case be afforded priority treatment by Thai authorities had apparently failed to speed up his application under the agreement.
But last week, the Hong Kong Government began laying the groundwork for a Correctional Services escort to bring the man back to the territory next Tuesday, sparking a request from officers for danger money.
'He will not now be part of a transfer on Tuesday when three other Hong Kong prisoners are to return,' said the British Embassy official.
'We welcome the Thai Government's decision to grant a king's pardon, although until we receive it in writing we cannot 100 per cent confirm it.'