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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Trapped in Paradise
Full Moon Party at Ko Pha Ngan
Drugs laws apply even on foreign beaches
Thousands of Brits are flying abroad - not to lie on a beach, but to party. But when the sun comes up, many of those jet-setting clubbers face one of the biggest come-downs: prison.
Cheaper flights have helped the Far East party circuit boom in the past five years. But those in search of hedonistic excess may be in for a shock.

In Thailand, the police raid clubs and randomly order partying foreigners to provide urine samples for drugs tests.

Possession of less than 20 grams of drugs means a minimum one year jail term, whilst taking drugs (hence the urine tests) could lead to a sentence anywhere between six months and 10 years.

Clubbers on beach
It could be a long wait
Dr Kittipong Kitiyarak, from the Ministry of Justice, says: "We would like to be tough on drugs and we arrest everybody who involve in drugs and send them to jail.

"If they do not realise this and come to Thailand and take drugs, because in some countries in Europe they are more lenient, they will be treated as the Thai who takes drugs and that will make their lives miserable."

Apocalypse

However, such warnings seem a world away to the 10,000 plus revellers at Ko Pha Ngan, for Hat Rin beach's monthly Full Moon Party, an event the Rough Guide depicts as, "Apocalypse Now, without the war".

Brits in prisons abroad
Of the 3,200 British Nationals imprisoned abroad, over a third are detained for drug offences
Source: Foreign Office
DJ Sanjay, from Maidstone in Kent, says in some ways the place in unique but in one way it's like other dance parties the world over.

"It's safe to say that with most dance events the two go hand in hand, music and drugs. And yes, there are drugs here."

At 7am, the dilated pupils of those still dancing on the beach and the occasional waft of cannabis smoke bear testament to that.

But plainclothes and uniformed police patrol the beach and the authorities say they arrest up to 20 people a month.

At the island's police station, Storm explains why he's tearful after visiting a pal arrested for smoking cannabis.

"My last friend arrested for drugs spent the night in a cell with eight Thai men. One [of them] was a lady boy and the others all raped him," he says.

"They took all my friends clothes off, except his shorts. He was terrified. But they didn't touch him.

"That's what conditions are like here. And all for a spliff."

Problems

A few thousand miles away in Cyprus, the link between drugs and club culture is dividing Ayia Napa. So Solid Crew, Heartless Crew, the Dreem Teem, and Twice as Nice are all on the roll call at the UK Garage scene's summer camp retreat. But the Mayor, Vara Pericleaus, has had enough.

"Last year, suddenly, young people are called 'clubbers'. If clubbers mean problems we don't want clubbers."

Nightclub
The partying carries on
"Some of the English people who come here think they can do what ever they like. They can't."

Louis Christofedies, a partner in the island's largest club, Club Abyss, is furious at the Mayor's hard line attitude. "She won't let us promote or flier. She is strangling us."

Ayia Napa regular DJ EZ agrees: "People come here to have a good time and part of that is to take drugs. You cannot expect people to come over here to get into a drug free zone."

In Cyprus, it's been known for tourists to get 40 days for possession of six grams of cannabis and a year for eight ecstasy pills. But many visiting Brits have no idea how strict the laws are.

Warnings

One well-known tour operator doesn't show the drugs warning video which the British High Commission has supplied to them, because they say their flight operators show it. The flight operator don't show it, however, because they thought the tour operator had done.

But with the clubbers going head on with the local authorities there are growing concerns about just how long the Ayia Napa scene will survive.

Ian Acheson is director of campaign group Prisoner's Abroad, which is backing the Foreign Office's "Know Before You Go" campaign, which aims to get travellers clued up on local laws before they travel.

FCO Know before you go campaign
The Foreign Office warns travellers to know the laws before they travel
Mr Acheson estimates around 700 UK citizens are in foreign jails for drugs offences.

"There is a wide misconception of drug laws and the help you can receive.

"Just because you are British does not mean anybody from British Consulate will come along and wave a flag and get you out.

"You will be treated the same way as anybody else who has broken the law."

A point neatly illustrated by the experience of a British girl visiting her friend arrested for drugs offences back on Thailand's Ko Pha Ngan.

She stood at the police station's front desk adamantly demanding his right to a phone call. The Thai police officer stood smiling at her.

"No," he said.

"But he has the right to a phone call."

"No," he repeated still smiling. "No right."


Send us your comments or experiences relating to this story, using the form below.

I visited Thailand two years ago and remember an unusually large concentration of chemists around Hat Rin. It probably needs its fair share of aspirin, but most of the drugs sold were of the headache-inducing variety. Until Thailand stops adopting contradicting policies - selling the islands as a party location and condoning the sale of amphetamines, while supposedly taking a tough line on drugs - it is no surprise travellers fail to take the warnings seriously.
Adam, England

I must confess to having travelled the trodden path of India and Thailand a number of times, beginning in 1989. Even then the drug culture was one of the main reasons for going there. It has always been acceptable to take drugs as long as if you got caught you gave the police a bribe. Thailand needs to tackle this before they tackle drugs, or it is one big circle!
Darren, UK

I'd like to see drugs legalised however I also believe it's important to respect other cultures. If the local laws are a problem for me then I would choose somewhere else to go. Comments like DJ EZ's highlight the ignorance of some people who travel abroad - you certainly can "expect people to come over here to get into a drug free zone". With inflexible attitudes like this it's easy to see why British tourists have such a bad reputation.
Sarah, UK

I fail to see a problem with people who break the law, through ignorance or otherwise, facing the consequences of their actions. And the DJs complaining about the crackdown need to grow up - the authorities have a responsibility to enforce their laws. We should respect them, not flaunt our disregard for them openly...
Larry, UK

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29 Jul 02 | UK
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