January 12, 2018 8:28 pm
Updated: January 15, 2018 8:28 pm

Edmonton man being held against his will in Thailand, family says

WATCH ABOVE: Friends of a young Edmonton man, whom they claim is being held against his will in Thailand, are fearful for his well-being. Sarah Kraus reports.

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UPDATE: Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. Johnson’s friends tell Global News he is safe and being held in a correctional facility. The friends say Johnson will plead guilty to a charge of distributing marijuana. Johnson does not yet have a lawyer in Thailand, but his friends say he intends to sue police in that country for a human rights violation.

Friends of a 25-year-old Edmonton man are fearful for his well-being, after he made multiple emergency calls to them from Thailand.

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Shawn Johnson reportedly told them he was being held in a basement there by men who looked like police.

Johnson’s best friend of five years, Andy Vinoly, said Johnson’s call woke her in the middle of the night Jan. 9.

“He said, ‘They said if I don’t get them $3,000 within the next three hours that I’ll be sent to jail.’ Then when his sister talked to him, they changed the number to $5,000.”

Vinoly said Johnson’s sister mentioned calling the Canadian embassy and it angered the men.

“They said the option to pay them is off the table now. He would have a trial in 48 hours and we wouldn’t hear from him until then. The 48 hours went by and we still didn’t hear anything from him,” Vinoly explained.

“We couldn’t believe that in any way this would be cops. Because it doesn’t make any sense to us,” explained another friend, Zoriana Shewchuk.

Johnson left Edmonton for a vacation in Thailand on Jan. 4. The calls came in at around 4 a.m. MST on Jan. 9 — it would have been 6 p.m. in Bangkok.

“They’d arrested him and were charging him with having weed on him,” Vinoly said. “The thing is we don’t actually think he would’ve had that on him.”

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said it cannot comment on details of the case due to privacy laws, but did say: “Global Affairs Canada is aware of the arrest of a Canadian citizen in Thailand and consular officials are in contact with local authorities, the individual and the family.”

On the federal government’s travel website, travellers to Thailand are advised to exercise a high degree of caution.

When it comes to drugs, the website says: “Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are very strict and include the death penalty for serious offences. The possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs, including marijuana, can result in severe fines and prison sentences. Arrested offenders may be prevented from leaving Thailand while legal proceedings are in process.”

The last time friends spoke to the Canadian Embassy, they were told Johnson was being held at a police station in Bangkok. They haven’t heard from Johnson himself since the emergency calls on Jan. 9.

“(I’m) extremely worried,” Shewchuk said. “Very, very stressed out. Very concerned for his safety, also, because we know that regulations and such in Thailand aren’t quite the same as here. We don’t really know what that means for him. It’s a terrifying situation. We don’t even know if they’ve been feeding him.”

All of the confusion and unanswered questions have kept them up at night.

“We want him home safe and sound and just to know he’s OK,” Vinoly said.

“He’s travelling by himself so he’s an easy target, I think, to be subjected to something like this.”

Shewchuk has set up a gofundme page, with donations going directly to Johnson’s twin sister to pay for a lawyer in Thailand. Friends are also hoping anyone with advice or tips will contact them through that page.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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