After posting unfavorable reviews of a hotel he stayed in, a US man is facing up to two years in prison in Thailand.
Wesley Barnes, who works in Thailand, posted multiple reviews reportedly accusing the resort of “modern day slavery” on various platforms.
However, the Sea View Resort said the harsh criticism of the former guest was untrue and detrimental to the image of the hotel.
“The owner lodged a complaint on the TripAdvisor website that the defendant had posted unfair reviews on his hotel,” the police told the AFP news agency.
The incident that took place earlier this year at the resort on the island of Koh Chang was apparently caused by Mr. Barnes’ claim that he decided to bring his own bottle of alcohol while dining at the restaurant.
He had “caused a commotion” and declined to pay a corkage charge that was ultimately waived when the manager intervened, a hotel statement said.
Mr Barnes has left many negative reviews of the property after leaving, in which the hotel sued him for defamation.
The hotel reported that its reviews were “manufactured, recurrent, and abusive,” with one TripAdvisor post accusing the hotel of “modern-day slavery.”
Mr Barnes, however, told the BBC that because it breached TripAdvisor ‘s rules, this particular post was never released.
He also said he had already lost his job over the incident and raised fears that it would be more difficult to find new jobs because of the attention his case had gained. Mr. Barnes added that he was really frightened of going to jail because of his first few days in custody.
He also hopes to explicitly settle the case with the hotel. But the hotel told the BBC that before they filed the suit, they had unsuccessfully attempted to reach Mr. Barnes. We decided to file a lawsuit to act as a deterrent, as we understood that for the near future he would continue to write derogatory reviews week after week, “they said.”
The hotel clarified that it had received cancellations and complaints about employee treatment after the reviews had been written. The management said it had told Mr Barnes several times that if he avoided writing new “fake” reviews, they would not go ahead with pressing charges.
“It can be extremely damaging to receive numerous false and defamatory reviews over a period of time , particularly during these extraordinarily difficult times,” they added. In criminalizing defamation, Thailand is not special, but the statute, which carries a penalty of up to two years in jail, is unusually easy to misuse. In 2016, for a story I made for the BBC, I was sued for criminal defamation. The lawsuit was abandoned 18 months later by the plaintiff.
Plaintiffs do not have to get a criminal complaint from the police or a lawyer-they can file a criminal complaint directly with a judge, and courts rarely reject them. Thus, almost inevitably, anybody exposed to such a complaint becomes a criminal suspect, called to court to defend themselves or, if they don’t, subject to arrest.
The criminal will have to pay bail, and as a stranger, the court will keep their passport, and the proceedings also last for several years. If they bring a separate civil lawsuit, they can not recoup the considerable costs of prosecuting those lawsuits, even if they win. So, even though what you said or reported is real, and the complainant agrees that it is real, you can always go to prison because you can show that there is a public interest in reporting it.
Unsurprisingly, in commercial or political disputes, criminal defamation lawsuits are often used. As many as 38 court lawsuits, many of them criminal defamation, against employees and human rights activists who protested about labor violations have been brought by one poultry processing firm. A two-year jail sentence for social media statements on the case has already been obtained by one journalist.