Hell in a sordid, stinking Asian jail


The stench of sweat in the small cell makes him want to throw up. About 100 people are packed in like sardines. Noise erupts from a corner of the room where spectators are watching men having sex near the toilet.

It’s a foreign country and he’s in prison without a cellphone or passport. He doesn’t understand what people around him are saying. And the policeman who left him there “for a while” has disappeared.

Arno Immelman (19) feels isolated in the prison in Laos, a small country in Asia. No one knows he’s there except the policeman.

He thinks of his mom in the Boland in the Western Cape. He wants to tell her he now knows what hell is and that he’ll never again do anything that will put him there.

Just more than a month later Arno is sitting next to his mother, Anne-Marie Immelman, in her Paarl townhouse. He’s safe but traumatised.

This past month will continue to haunt him for years.

It’s a few days since his release and his arrival in Cape Town on 5 August.

“I started thinking I would never get out of there,” he says of the terrifying four weeks he was unlawfully locked up.

Day after day, night after night he languished in the stink of semen and sweat amid the noise and the cruelty while embassy staff, his mother, his agent, Laos’ department of foreign affairs, SA diplomats and international human rights organisations scurried around in vain to get him out – and a “ransom” of R28 000 was demanded.

Read more in YOU 18 August 2011.

Watch a short clip of Arno and his mother, Anne-Marie Immelman

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