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HOME // Phuket News // New Zealander locked up, naked, in a Patong jail

New Zealander locked up, naked, in a Patong jail

Ari Michael Salinger, the 45 year old son of New Zealand climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger, was arrested for drug possession in Phuket last September. Police alleged he was found with two ecstasy (MDMA) tablets on his person.

He was initially remanded on bail and his passport confiscated by the courts until last Monday. He then pleaded guilty to the charge of drug possession. He was sentenced with a small fine and was expected by his family to be on his way to the Immigrant Detention Centre awaiting deportation.

Instead, it’s reported that he was sent to a cell at the Patong Police Station where, according to his father, his clothes, food and medicine were confiscated and he was left to sleep naked on a concrete floor without access to water.

Salinger was moved on Thursday evening to the Immigration Detention Centre after four days of uncertainty and difficulties communicating with both the New Zealand embassy and Thai officials.

The New Zealand embassy, according to the man’s family, offered Salinger little help, advising him to find a lawyer.

Salinger’s pregnant partner, Vanessa Pagarigan, travelled to Thailand in an attempt to help him.

“I feel like I cannot ask for any help.”

Salinger’s situation is complicated by the fact that his visa extension request requires a document from the court, but the court insists that Salinger’s lawyer must provide the document, which is not possible since his lawyer has Covid-19.

Salinger’s passport is being held by the courts, preventing him from getting a new visa. According to the New Zealand Embassy in Thailand, Salinger was advised that he would need to retrieve his passport to obtain a visa extension. The embassy was criticised for providing little or no assistance, with Dr Salinger stating that the embassy’s first contact with his son was to send him a link to a site detailing what they could and couldn’t do for him.

(The consulates and embassies in Thailand are notoriously unhelpful to their citizens given the privacy issues, lack of home government support, legal limitations and fear of confrontations with Thai officials. Requests for information by media are always passed on to their foreign affairs ministries. Much of their work is often done in an ‘unofficial’ capacity when trying to assist citizens.)

The situation was worsened by the lack of communication between the New Zealand Embassy and Salinger’s family. The embassy’s official response to the situation was that they were providing consular assistance to Salinger, but for “privacy reasons” could not provide further information.

Salinger was eventually transferred to the Immigration Detention Centre after four days of uncertainty and difficulties communicating with both the embassy and the Thai legal system.

Salinger’s partner, who has been rushing between the court and the jail, said Salinger had received spotty help from the embassy even before his imprisonment, waiting two weeks for an appointment. In an email to Salinger a few weeks after his initial arrest, the embassy said they do not provide legal advice and advised him to find a lawyer.

The embassy warned him to be cautious about publicising the situation on social media.

The situation has been frustrating for Salinger’s family, who fear he will be lost in the Thai penal system.

“He has a son in Australia who wonders whether he will ever see him again. We don’t want to find the embassy is ringing up to say, ‘I’m afraid your son’s dead’.”

According to, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told the family they were “providing consular assistance to a New Zealand citizen detained in Thailand”, but for privacy reasons could provide no further information.


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