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23 Oct 2020 9:20
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  •   Home > News > International

    An American wrote a bad review about a Thailand hotel. Months later he was arrested and is being sued for defamation

    Wesley Barnes stayed at a Thailand beach resort and posted a bad review online about it. Almost three months later he was arrested for defamation and put in jail.

    An American traveller who posted negative comments about a Thai beach resort online could face up to two years in jail, if he is found guilty under Thailand's strict defamation laws.

    Wesley Barnes stayed at Sea View Koh Chang in late June and said he had a disagreement with a foreign restaurant manager over a corkage fee for a bottle of gin he brought to dinner.

    "The experience with the restaurant manager ruined the entire evening," he told the ABC.

    "Also, my friend and I [saw] him from our balcony later in the evening being overly aggressive and shouting with a Thai staff member."

    The Sea View Koh Chang resort said two days after checking out, Mr Barnes posted a review in Thai and English on Tripadvisor titled 'Modern Slavery'.

    The resort said Mr Barnes "left multiple fabricated and slanderous" reviews on Tripadvisor and Google, including one accusing management of treating staff like "slaves".

    Sea View Koh Chang shared a screenshot of the review with the ABC in a statement.

    "Do not sleep here! Don't support modern slavery of Thai people! The staff are not friendly because of their management. The foreigners treat the staff like slaves," part of the review said.

    The American, who lives in Thailand, was arrested and charged with defamation by publication last month.

    He spent two nights in jail before being released on bail.

    "I was arrested Friday, September 18 by immigration police at my workplace. It was scary," Mr Barnes said.

    "I met a Swedish guy in [prison] that stabbed a guy 16 times on Koh Chang Island, so needless to say, it was a scary place.

    "I had to pay 100,000 baht [$4,400] to get released."

    He told the ABC he lost his job after his arrest and he feared being sent back to prison.

    Hotel says comments were damaging, especially during 'difficult times'

    In a statement to the ABC, the resort said it tried to "settle this dispute amicably" by phoning, messaging and emailing Mr Barnes, but he did not respond until after his arrest.

    "The guest had refused to have any discussions with us, nor stopping his slanderous campaign against our staffs and our hotel," the resort's statement said.

    "In escalation of these public online harassment, we decided to seek help from the local authority to protect our business."

    The resort said by this stage, more negative reviews — which they believe also came from Mr Barnes — had appeared online, so they filed a police complaint.

    "Receiving multiple false and defamatory reviews over a period can be extremely damaging, especially during these incredibly difficult times," the resort said.

    Thailand has recorded more than 3,500 COVID-19 cases, but compared with other countries, infection rates have been low and the country has been praised for quickly flattening its curve.

    But the economic downturn caused by lockdowns, border closures and a lack of foreign travellers has been acutely felt by Thailand businesses, especially those reliant on tourism.

    Mr Barnes said the review he posted on Tripadvisor was never published online because he received an email from the website stating, "we cannot publish your contribution as it does not meet our review guidelines".

    "The review they are using to claim defamation never got posted, I can send you the emails from Tripadvisor proving that," he said.

    Mr Barnes has shared screenshots of his emails from the Tripadvisor Support Team with the ABC.

    He did not comment on whether he posted subsequent reviews about Sea View Koh Chang online.

    Why could the tourist go to jail over defamation?

    Defamation is a criminal offence in Thailand, unlike Australia where it is dealt with in civil courts.

    The maximum sentence is two years imprisonment and a 200,000 baht ($8,800) fine.

    Koh Chang Police Captain Thanapol Taemsara told the ABC he had never seen a case like this one.

    "There have been defamation cases but I've never seen a case related to a review on Tripadvisor," Captain Taemsara said.

    "The hotel and Mr Barnes still have the chance to negotiate and make resettlement in court."

    The case will return to court in Thailand on October 6, but the American said he was "willing to resolve this case with the hotel".

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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