An American living in Thailand was unhappy with a resort hotel he wanted to charge him a $ 15 fine for bringing his bottle of gin to the restaurant. He argued with a manager and then did what became second nature to 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 dissatisfied with the host and with what he considered his individual campaign to damage his reputation. Unable to contact him or stop his TripAdvisor posts, the resort filed a complaint with the Thai police under the country̵
As a result, the host, 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 regain its good name, asking the police for help backfired, badly. Mr. Barnes’s arrest resulted in online convictions, negative news and a flurry of negative reviews for the resort. A hotel manager said the resort was receiving death threats from foreigners.
“I’m not sure why the geniuses in charge here think that locking someone up for ‘damaging their reputation’ with a well-deserved bad review will help their reputation,” read a Google review posted Monday by someone calling himself Wholesome Bot.
Arrest under the defamation law is also a bad thing for Thailand, which is desperately trying to rebuild a tourism industry paralyzed by the coronavirus. One of its 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. But to contain the virus, the government banned all foreign travelers in April and is now trying to find ways to reopen the country safely.
Human rights defenders have long criticized Thailand’s libel law, which can lead to criminal charges for speaking out and is sometimes used by commercial interests to silence critics.
In one case last year, a Lopburi province court found a reporter, Suchanee Cloitre, guilty of libel for posting a tweet in 2016 criticizing the work practices of Thammakaset Co., a poultry farm operator. Ms. Suchanee, a television reporter, was sentenced to two years in prison. He’s hot. The case was one of more than a dozen cases filed by the company against journalists, workers and activists.
Even tougher is the country’s treason law, which can lead to a 15-year sentence for insulting the king of Thailand. Protesters who were organizing demonstrations against the monarch in recent weeks risks being prosecuted under this law.
The Koh Chang controversy was brought to light by popular travel blogger Richard Barrow in a Twitter post. After Mr. Barrow reported the arrest, Sea View and Mr. Barnes sent him statements providing their own accounts of what happened, which Mr. Barrow also posted.
Mr. Barnes said he was “shocked” by the cap charge during his June stay and complained to the server. A manager intervened and after an argument in which they both showed “an attitude”, admitted Mr. Barnes, the manager waived the fee.
Mr. Barnes said he later saw the same manager chewing on an employee and concluded that “there was a master / slave mentality going on.” He decided at that time to write a review.
Apparently, he didn’t post just one review, but several on TripAdvisor and Google giving the hotel the lowest possible rating and further criticizing the management. One post angered the resort by saying, “Avoid this place like it’s the Coronavirus!”
Mr. Barnes said that after his arrest, he was returned by police to Koh Chang, an island in the Gulf of Thailand about an hour’s flight southeast of Bangkok. By the time he arrived on Saturday, September 12, he was too late to bail and he spent two nights in jail before being released the following Monday.
The Sea View, in its statement, claimed to have contacted Mr. Barnes to try to resolve the situation in an amicable way, but never received a response. The hotel said it only went to the police as a last resort to stop the flow of negative reviews.
“We agree that the use of a libel law may be considered excessive for this situation,” acknowledged the hotel. “However, the guest refused to respond to our communication attempts and instead continued to consistently post negative and false reviews about our business.”
The statement continued: “We just want to make sure these fake reviews are stopped and we haven’t had a chance to negotiate the matter with the guest until after filing the complaint with the authorities.”