Ari Salinger's clothes, food and medicine were taken from him in jail and he was left to sleep naked on a concrete floor without access to water. Photo: Supplied

The 45-year-old son of a renowned New Zealand climate scientist has spent the past three nights in a Thai jail with limited access to food and clothing, and no idea of when he can get out.

Ari Michael Salinger, son of Dr Jim Salinger, was arrested last September in Phuket after police found two ecstasy tablets on his person. 

He was remanded on bail with his passport held by the courts until Monday of this week, when he pleaded guilty to drug possession. He was sentenced with a small fine and expected to be on his way to the Immigrant Detention Center to await deportation.

Instead, he was sent to jail at the Patong Provincial Police Station, where according to his father his clothes, food and medicine were removed and he was left to sleep naked on a concrete floor without access to water. 

Salinger was moved yesterday evening to the Immigration Detention Center after four days of uncertainty and difficulties communicating with both the New Zealand embassy and the Thai legal system.

Salinger’s pregnant partner Vanessa Pagarigan came over from the couple’s home in the Phillipines at the time of the arrest to help him.

She said she’s felt like there has been little help to find a solution for Salinger, and with her own Thai tourism visa expiring at the end of the month, worries about him disappearing into the Thai penal system.

“I feel like I cannot ask for any help,” she said.

It’s been a week of back and forth with Thai officials, who yesterday told her that Salinger could be transferred to the detention centre.

But upon her arrival at the prison, they told her it was too late in the day and she needed to procure a document from the courts before he could be transferred.

And with Salinger’s Thai lawyer now down with Covid, things have been made even more difficult.

“They told me there’s one missing document that we need about his visa situation,” she said.

Ari Salinger is unsure of when he’ll be able to get a transfer out of Patong Provincial Police Station. Photo: Khaosod English

It seems to be a paradoxical situation for Salinger – any overstaying that could have occurred happened while on bail, with the Thai courts holding his passport and preventing him from getting a new visa.

According to the New Zealand Embassy in Thailand, the court advised Salinger he would need to submit a request to retrieve his passport for a visa extension.

Pagarigan said the New Zealand Embassy in Thailand had been of little help.

“I contacted the embassy many times, and they said they were aware of Ari’s situation,” she said. “But then why didn’t they know about this document he needed?”

Pagarigan has been rushing between the court and the jail, bringing Salinger bottles of water.

Video from within the prison shows a faucet being turned but no water coming out.

She 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 the initial arrest, the embassy said it does not provide legal advice and advised him to find a lawyer. 

They warned him to be cautious about publicising the situation on social media, saying “please be mindful of the potential of comments on social media to worsen your situation. We encourage you to focus on sorting out your case. If anything does not sound right, do think twice and be careful before acting.”

The man’s father is renowned climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger, who was disappointed in the lack of support from the New Zealand Embassy.

The embassy’s first contact with the man was to send him a link to a site detailing the things they could and couldn’t do for him.

“I’m not asking them to do what they’re not supposed to do, but I’m not sure what they’ve done at this stage,” Dr Salinger said.

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

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) official had been in contact with Dr Salinger to update him on their actions around his son’s case.

The official said they had been in touch with the lawyer and local police, who reported that he had been throwing water at other detainees and police officers. Salinger said he had never thrown water at people.

Salinger had dealt with the embassies in Cairo and Dubai and the past and found them very helpful.

“It’s only the shocking difference in help between them and the Bangkok embassy that lead me to the be aware of the difference,” he said.

In an email to Dr Salinger, the embassy said they had been in touch with his son.

“The embassy has been in fairly regular contact with Ari dating back to August last year when he was arrested and we will continue to do what we can to ensure his deportation back to New Zealand goes as smoothly as possible,” the official wrote to Dr Salinger.

But for Ari Salinger, smooth was probably the wrong word as he faced another night on the concrete floor in his underwear.

When Newsroom approached the office of Minister for Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta for comment, we were directed to ask Mfat for information.

A ministry spokesperson said they were providing consular assistance to a New Zealand citizen detained in Thailand, but for privacy reasons could provide no further information.

Mfat figures from the end of last year showed that at the time around 60 New Zealanders were in prison or being held captive overseas.

Speaking to Newsroom’s The Detail, former trade minister and ambassador to Indonesia and the United States Tim Groser said situations where New Zealanders get into trouble overseas can be “awesomely difficult” for diplomats to manage.

“When you are travelling, you don’t travel within the framework of New Zealand law, you travel within the law and conventions of the country you’re travelling”.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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