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Americans could face jail in Thailand for negative reviews of a resort

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

The hotel, Sea View Koh Chang Resort on Koh Chang Island, was also unhappy with the guest and his one-man campaign to damage its reputation. The resort was unable to contact him or discontinue his posts on TripAdvisor and filed a complaint with the Thai police under the country̵

7;s strict libel law.

As a result, 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.

When the Sea View hoped to regain its good name, it sought help from the police and backfired. Mr Barnes’ arrest has sparked online condemnation, negative news and a number of bad reviews for the resort. A hotel manager said the resort had received death threats from foreigners.

“I’m not sure why the geniuses responsible here think that it will help their reputation to lock someone who damages their reputation with a deserved bad rating,” said a review on Google by someone on Monday called Wholesome Bot.

The defamation law arrest is also bad looking for Thailand, which is desperately trying to rebuild a tourism industry crippled by the coronavirus. One of his strategies is to encourage people living in Thailand to travel within the country.

Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and tourism is an important part of its economy. To contain the virus, the government banned all foreign travelers in April and is now trying to find ways to safely reopen the country.

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

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

Even tougher is the law of the country’s majesty, which can provide for a 15-year prison sentence for insulting the Thai king. Protesters who have staged demonstrations against the monarch in recent weeks are at risk of being prosecuted under this law.

The Koh Chang controversy was brought to light in posts on Twitter by a popular travel blogger, Richard Barrow. After Mr Barrow reported the arrest, Sea View and Mr Barnes sent him statements giving their own accounts of what had happened, which Mr Barrow also made public.

Mr Barnes said he was “shocked” by the cork fee while he was there in June and complained to the server. A manager intervened, and after a discussion in which both of them showed “an attitude”, Mr. Barnes admitted the manager waived the fee.

Mr Barnes said he later saw the same manager chew an employee and concluded that “there is a certain master / slave mentality going on”. At that moment he decided to write a review.

As it turns out, he posted not just one review but several on TripAdvisor and Google to give the hotel the lowest possible rating and to further criticize the management. One post angered the resort by saying, “Avoid this place like it’s the coronavirus!”

Mr Barnes said that after he was arrested, police took him back to Koh Chang, an island in the Gulf of Thailand about an hour’s flight southeast of Bangkok. When he arrived on September 12th, a Saturday, it was too late for him to leave bail and he spent two nights in prison before being released the following Monday.

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

“We agree that applying a libel law to this situation can be viewed as excessive,” the hotel admitted. “However, the guest refused to respond to our communication attempts and continued to persist in posting negative and untrue reviews of our business.”

The statement went on to say, “We just want to make sure that these false reviews are stopped and we haven’t had a chance to negotiate the matter with the guest until we have filed the complaint with the authorities.”

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