Mutual agreement ray of hope for Czech heroin smugglers in Thailand

Snapshot of Radek Hanykovics, photo: CTK

An agreement between the Czech Republic and Thailand took effect on Tuesday, on the mutual exchange of prisoners serving time in the two countries' jails. For two Czechs convicted of smuggling drugs in Thailand, the new agreement is a ray of hope, offering them the chance of seeing their homeland again. Rob Cameron reports.

Snapshot of Radek Hanykovics,  photo: CTK
Emil Novotny and Radek Hanykovics have spent more than six years in a Thai prison, after each was sentenced to 50 years for trying to smuggle heroin out of the country. In March 1995, Novotny - then just 19 - was caught at Bangkok airport with just over four kilos of heroin bound for Europe. One year later, Hanykovics - then 27 - was stopped at the same airport with around 2.5 kilos of heroin in his luggage. He too was given 50 years.

Under Thailand's draconian drug laws the two have little chance of early release. Following a royal amnesty Novotny's sentence was reduced to 43 years. Hanykovics was luckier - he saw his sentence reduced to 30 years. Before Tuesday's agreement between the Czech and Thai governments, both men faced the very real prospect of leaving prison in their late fifties.

Now, however, they have a good chance of being allowed to return to their homeland, possibly even by Christmas. Under the terms of the agreement, Novotny and Hanykovics would be allowed to leave Thailand, and serve their sentences in a Czech prison according to the Czech penal code. Under Czech law a prisoner cannot request parole until he or she has served at least two thirds of his sentence, meaning that both men would still have to spend another 20 or so years inside. But crucially, they can also receive an amnesty from the Czech president. This is the most likely scenario - the highest sentence permissible under Czech law is 25 years, and this is reserved for particularly brutal murders.

Neither Novotny nor Hanykovics deny the smuggling charges, although Hanykovics says he didn't know what he was smuggling and Novotny claims he had no idea the penalty for heroin was so high. But there is widespread sympathy among the Czech public for their case - 50 years is a long time, and relatives of the men say conditions in Thai prisons are barbaric. Jan Hanykovics quotes letters from his brother, describing how he was chained to the wall in a cell like a tiger's cage, kept awake by the screaming of other prisoners and the clanking of metal. Czech prisons can hardly be described as idyllic, but for Emil Novotny and Radek Hanykovics the difference will be enormous.