Hundreds of Brits Imprisoned Overseas for Drugs

By Shawn Dwyer 11/27/13

Many British nationals are facing harsh sentences and even months of detainment without trial. Some could even face the death penalty.

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According to the United Kingdom’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), some 850 British citizens are currently locked behind bars in overseas prisons on various drug charges, with many of them facing harsh conditions and lengthy imprisonment without trial.

In conjunction with the charity Prisoners Abroad, the FOC has launched a campaign warning British nationals of the harsh penalties that await them in other countries for drug offenses that would earn them a slap on the wrist at home. "People continue to be astonished at some of the penalties handed down for certain crimes overseas,” said Consular Affairs Minister Mark Simmonds. “In some countries possessing small amounts of marijuana can lead to decades in prison.” Pauline Crowe, the chief executive of Prisoners Abroad, echoed concern about the often shocking treatment even minor drug offenders face. “In many countries, men and women find themselves without access to food, clean water and the most basic of medical care,” she said in The Guardian. “We urge people to consider the unsanitary conditions, overcrowded cells and the constant threat of disease before they get involved in drugs."

At the moment, Prisoners Abroad offers support to some 84 British nationals imprisoned for drugs in countries as varied as Spain, Peru, Thailand, and even the United States. In Spain, for example, offenders can be held for up to a year before trial or denied exit from the country even if out on bail. Sentences in Spain can be as long as 20 years for hard drugs and up to six for lesser drugs. Of the 84 detainees under Prisoners Abroad’s watch, 62 have yet to face trial.

Currently, there are 33 countries and territories across the world that use capital punishment for drug offenses, including Thailand, a popular hotspot for British students.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.