Help us too, plead jailed HK women

TWO young Hong Kong women languishing in a Bangkok jail have begged the British Government to lobby for their release, after two British women were freed last month.

They, like the youngest of the English women, were both 17 when they were arrested for drug trafficking and given long prison sentences.

But they complain - more in sadness than in anger - that the British Prime Minister, John Major, has not pressed the Thai Government for their early release.

Michelle Tse Hoi-man, now 19, told the South China Morning Post: ''We are still British even if we are Hong Kong people.'' Michelle's father is now hoping that a plea for a royal pardon may be forthcoming after a request from the British Embassy, but he fears his chances are slim.

Stephen Tse Kwok-yau said last night: ''We thought there could be better treatment for Westerners. We are not sure that Asians would get the same treatment. That to me is wrong. We are only little citizens. We can't do anything.'' The parallels with the case of the British women, Patricia Cahill and Karyn Smith, are striking. All four are teenagers and all originally claimed to have been set up.

Having heard that Mr Major intervened on behalf of Smith and Cahill, Mr Tse plans to write to Governor Chris Patten seeking similar support.

The Hong Kong pair appear to be at least as equally innocent or guilty as Smith and Cahill; moreover they were both convicted of carrying a fraction of the quantity of heroin stashed away by the women from Birmingham.

Smith and Cahill were released barely three years after they embarked on an exotic, all-expenses paid trip to Africa, Asia and Europe.

Yet weary Tammy Sung Siu-sha, now 22, has already served five years in the same Klong Prem Prison, not far from Bangkok's Don Muang airport.

''Of course we are jealous - and a little bitter as well. If the British Government helped us then perhaps we could go as well,'' said Tammy.

Michelle was arrested 15 months ago and sentenced to 121/2 years for carrying 2.5 kilograms of heroin. Her ''friend'' flew on to Korea.

Tammy said she was dumb-founded when police found 6.5 kilograms of heroin in her baggage.

One of the two men travelling with her told the police he had hidden the narcotics in her bags, unbeknown to her, because he thought she would be less likely to be searched. Tammy was still sentenced to 16 years.

Both said that during their respective trials they were strongly advised by their Thai lawyers to plead guilty or run the risk of being given a very lengthy sentence.

The arrest of Smith and Cahill brought an avalanche of media coverage in Britain with the implication being that two of ''our girls'' had fallen into a brutal Oriental hell-hole.

Their family, friends and lawyers appeared to have created enough of a ruckus for Mr Major to plead the ''humanitarian'' aspects of their case to the Thai authorities; long sentences, a huge 27 kilograms of heroin and even private admissions of guilt notwithstanding.

One lawyer close to the affair said: ''I feel the application of British pressure hasn't been equal - perhaps Mr Major hasn't been aware of the Hong Kong girls.'' The freeing of Smith and Cahill has been criticised in Britain because the two are said to have engineered their own fate. Concern for their well-being was described as hypocritical.

Yet the hypocrisy must surely be all the greater if the concern is for the welfare of two English but not two Hong Kong women.

At the very least the British Government owes the Hong Kong women an explanation as to why they are less deserving than two English women.

If the release of the two British women sends - as alleged in some quarters in Britain - the wrong signals to would-be drug smugglers what sort of signal does it also send to the people of Hong Kong.