Tourists face prison time for a Thailand hotel trip advisor review

Clay Curtis
September 30, 2020

The lack of free speech in Thailand has been thrown into sharp relief after an American man was arrested by police for posting negative reviews online of a local hotel.

According to the New York Times, Barnes stayed at the Sea View Koh Chang resort in June and got into a dispute with the management over a $20 corkage fee for a bottle of gin that he'd brought along for his stay.

Another post, which accused the hotel of "modern day slavery", was removed by TripAdvisor for violating its guidelines.

Colonel Thanapon Taemsara of Koh Chang police told AFP that Sea View Resort owner filed a complaint that the defendant had posted unfair reviews on his hotel on the Tripadvisor website.

The Sea View Resort said legal action was taken only because Mr Barnes had penned multiple reviews on different sites over the past few weeks.

The statement continued: "We simply want to ensure that these untrue reviews are stopped, and we had no way of negotiating the matter with the guest until after our filing the complaint with authorities". The Times reports that a since-deleted review also warned visitors to "Avoid this place as if it was the Coronavirus!" "If the customers write unfairly and if your hotel is really famous and good, other reviews would show that only one customer has problems with it. Police should use common sense while working too".

That was when he made up his mind to leave several negative reviews on TripAdvisor and Google.

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If convicted, Barnes could face up to two years in prison and a $ 6,329 (or $ 200,000) fine, the report said.

"It is not clear to me in what parallel universe having a guest arrested and jailed for a negative review is considered sound hospitality", Stuart McDonald said in his weekly online newsletter Travelfish.

Thailand has notorious anti-defamation laws that have faced condemnation from human rights organisations in the past.

He was taken into custody and returned to Koh Chang, where he was briefly detained before he was released on bail.

A Thai journalist was sentenced in December 2019 to two years in prison for criticizing a poultry farm on Twitter.

The Sea View, in its statement, said that it had reached out to Barnes to try to resolve the situation amicably but never received a response. On the weekend of September 12, Barnes found himself in a jail cell on the island of Koh Chang waiting for Monday to roll around so he could post bail.

"TripAdvisor is opposed to the idea that a traveler can be prosecuted for expressing opinions", the company said. "The most important aspect though, is Thailand's deranged defamation law", McDonald said. "Thankfully, on a global basis, prosecutions like this are rare and hundreds of millions of travelers are able to express themselves freely without facing criminal charges".

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