An American who lives in Thailand did not like the resort hotel charging $ 15 for the bottle of gin he had taken with him to the restaurant. He complained to the manager and later did what became common for most dissatisfied guests: he posted negative comments on the internet about the resort.
The hotel, the resort Sea View Koh Chang, on the island of Koh Chang, also disliked the guest’s attitude and what he considered a personal campaign to damage his reputation. Unable to reach him or stop posting messages on TripAdvisor, the resort filed a complaint with the Thai police appealing to the country’s strict defamation law.
Consequently, the guest, Wesley Barnes, was arrested this month and spent a week in jail. If convicted of criminal defamation, he faces up to two years in prison.
If Sea View hoped to regain its good name by seeking help from the police, the shot backfired. Barnes’ arrest sparked widespread condemnation on the Internet, negative episodes and a series of bad comments for the resort. A hotel manager said the resort was receiving death threats from foreigners. “I don’t understand why the geniuses in charge of hotels here think that arresting a person for ‘damaging his reputation’ with a well-deserved negative comment, would restore his reputation,” said a note on Google posted on Monday by someone called Wholesome Bot.
The arrest under the defamation law also has a terrible impact on Thailand, which desperately seeks to rebuild its tourism sector destroyed by the new coronavirus. One of its strategies is to encourage people living in the country to get to know you up close.
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in the world and tourism forms the largest part of its economy. But to contain the virus, the government banned foreign travelers from entering in April, and is now trying to find ways to reopen the country safely.
Human rights defenders have long criticized Thai defamation law, which can lead to criminal charges for complaining and is sometimes used by business interests to silence critics.
The Koh Chang controversy revealed a famous travel blogger, Richard Barrow, in Twitter posts. After Barrow spoke of the arrest, Sea View and Barnes sent him their own versions of what happened, which Barrow also posted.
Barnes said he was “shocked” by the tax charged on the drink during his stay in June and complained to the waiter. A manager intervened, and after a heated argument, Barnes admitted, the manager gave up on charging the fee.
The client stated that he later saw the same manager fight with the waiter and concluded that “there is a boss / slave relationship”. So he decided to write a comment.
Apparently, he did not limit himself to one comment, but wrote several on TripAdvisor and Google giving the hotel the lowest rating and criticizing, in addition, the management. A post particularly irritated the resort by stating: “Avoid this place as if it were the coronavirus!”.
Barnes said that, after his arrest, he was taken by police back to Koh Chang, an island in the Gulf of Thailand about an hour’s flight southeast of Bangkok. But when he arrived there on September 12, a Saturday, it was too late to post bail and he spent two nights in jail before being released the following Monday.
Sea View said in its report that it had sought out Barnes to try to resolve the situation amicably, but received no response. The hotel said it went to the police only as an extreme resource to end the flood of derogatory comments.
“We agree that using a defamation law can be considered excessive for this situation,” admitted the hotel. “However, the guest refused to respond to our attempts at communication and continued to post negative and untrue comments about our business.”
The statement went on: “We just want to ensure that these untrue comments stop, and on the other hand, we had no chance to negotiate a solution with the guest until after we filed a complaint with the authorities.”
TripAdvisor issued a statement saying it was investigating the incident and was opposed to a person being convicted of the content of a comment.
“TripAdvisor opposes the idea that a tourist could be condemned for expressing opinions,” said the company. “Fortunately, globally, convictions like this are rare and hundreds of millions of tourists can express themselves freely without facing criminal charges.”
TRANSLATION OF ANNA CAPOVILLA