Monday, September 28, 2020

American Could Face Prison in Thailand After Posting Negative Reviews of a Resort

By Richard C. Paddock
Sept. 28, 2020Updated 12:16 p.m. ET

An American man who lives in Thailand was unhappy that a resort hotel  wanted to charge him a $15 corkage fee for bringing his own bottle of gin to the restaurant. He argued with a manager and then later did what has become second nature for disgruntled tourists: He posted negative reviews of the resort online.

The hotel, the Sea View Koh Chang resort on the island of Koh Chang, was equally unhappy with the guest and what it saw as his one-man campaign to damage its reputation. Unable to reach him or halt his posts on TripAdvisor, the resort filed a complaint with the Thai police under the country’s harsh defamation law.

As a result, the guest, Wesley Barnes, was arrested this month and spent a weekend in jail. If convicted of criminal defamation, he faces up to two years in prison.

If the Sea View was hoping to win back its good name, seeking help from the police backfired, badly. Mr. Barnes’s arrest has set off condemnation online, negative news stories and a burst of bad reviews for the resort. A hotel manager said the resort was receiving death threats from foreigners.


The arrest under the defamation law is also a bad look for Thailand, which is desperately seeking to rebuild a tourism industry crippled by the coronavirus. One of its strategies is to encourage people who live in Thailand to travel within the country.


Human rights advocates have long criticized Thailand’s defamation law, which can lead to criminal charges for speaking out and is sometimes used by business interests to silence critics.

In a case last year, a court in the province of Lopburi found a journalist, Suchanee Cloitre, guilty of defamation for posting a tweet in 2016 criticizing the labor practices of Thammakaset Co., the operator of a poultry farm. Ms. Suchanee, a television reporter, was sentenced to two years in prison. She is appealing. The case was one of more than a dozen filed by the company against journalists, workers and activists.


Even harsher is the country’s lèse-majesté law, which can bring a 15-year sentence for insulting Thailand’s king. Protesters who have been staging demonstrations against the monarch in recent weeks run the risk of being prosecuted under this law.


The Sea View, in its statement, said that it had reached out to Mr. Barnes to try to resolve the situation amicably but never received a response. The hotel said it went to the police only as a last resort to stop the stream of bad reviews.


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