Hundreds of Britons in foreign jails over drug offences

Michaella McCollum escorted into court in Callao, Peru, on 24 September 2013
Image caption Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid admitted attempting to smuggle cocaine out of Peru

More than 850 Britons are locked up in overseas prisons for drug-related offences, serving sentences of up to 39 years, the Foreign Office has said.

Many are held for months without trial and face poor conditions, it said.

It highlighted the issue with charity Prisoners Abroad as part of a campaign warning against the use, possession and smuggling of drugs around the world.

Last year, consular staff handled some 650 drug-related cases, a figure the FCO wants to "reduce significantly".

The FCO said the zero-tolerance approach of certain countries towards drugs and the tough penalties they impose can come as a shock to some British travellers.

Overseas, offences that may carry cautions in the UK are often penalised with long prison sentences, while in 33 countries or territories some drug offences carry the death sentence, it warned.

For example:

  • In Peru, more than 30 Britons are currently in prison for drugs offences. Drug smugglers in the country face long terms of imprisonment. One recent case involved UK pair Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid who pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle cocaine out of Peru in August. The pair, aged 20, face jail sentences of at least six years and eight months
  • In Thailand, being in possession of in excess of 20g of a Class A drug could mean you are classified as a trafficker and could potentially be sentenced to death
  • United Arab Emirates' sentences for drug trafficking - for possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs - can lead to a minimum four-year jail sentence
  • In Indonesia, those caught with drugs face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty, usually after a protracted and expensive legal process

Prisoners Abroad said it was supporting 80 Britons, aged between 18 and 30, who were being held in foreign countries for drugs offences.

Two thirds of these are still awaiting trial while others are serving sentences from a year to nearly 39 years, it said.

Consular affairs minister Mark Simmonds said: "People continue to be astonished at some of the penalties handed down for certain crimes overseas. In some countries possessing small amounts of marijuana can lead to decades in prison.

"Laws, penalties and sentences vary considerably around the world for the use, possession and trafficking of all types of drugs. When it comes to drugs our message is clear - don't take risks, the consequences are simply not worth it."

Prisoners Abroad chief executive Pauline Crowe said: "In many countries, men and women find themselves without access to food, clean water and the most basic of medical care.

"We urge people to consider the unsanitary conditions, overcrowded cells and the constant threat of disease before they get involved in drugs. They may have to live through these conditions for many, many years."

More on this story