American Could Face Prison Time in Thailand for Posting Negative Tripadvisor Reviews of Resort
An American living in Thailand says he could face up to two years in prison for posting negative reviews of a resort, multiple outlets report.
According to The New York Times, Wesley Barnes, a U.S. citizen who lives in the Asian country, posted a series of Tripadvisor reviews slamming the Sea View Koh Chang resort located on the island of Koh Chang, prompting the hotel to take action against him. The resort issued a complaint to local police citing Thailand's defamation laws.
Barnes was taken into custody earlier this month and stayed behind bars for a weekend as he was booked on a Saturday and couldn't post bail until that Monday, the outlet reports.
It was not immediately clear if Barnes has an attorney.
Both parties issued statements to travel blogger Richard Barrow, who posted the comments on Twitter, where he has kept his followers updated on the developing story.
According to the hotel, the issue arose from an incident when Barnes brought outside alcohol to their restaurant on June 27 without paying the establishment's corkage fee. Sea View provided screengrabs of some of Barnes' alleged reviews, one of which condemned the resort as operating ″modern day slavery.″
In his statement, Barnes claimed he never posted the ″slavery" comment and that he dismissed an email he received from the resort that asked him to delete his reviews.
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"So in my original post (that Never got posted) I used the phrase modern slavery. It was not nice by any means but it made my point and how I felt about the situation there," read Barnes' statement that Barrow shared. ″I could have never dreamt what would happen next.″
″I got an email from the hotel telling me to remove all of my reviews or face criminal charges,″ continued Barnes. ″Coming from the west, I felt it was an empty threat. Plus, the review that was used for defamation never got published. Boy was I wrong.″
In its statement, the resort said it agrees the defamation law could seem ″excessive for this situation.″
″We agree that using a defamation law may be viewed as excessive for this situation. However, the guest refused to respond to our attempts at communication and instead continued to persistently post negative and untrue reviews of our business,″ said Sea View. ″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."
According to the Associated Press, Barnes said on Tuesday that he has been ″trying to reach out to the hotel to resolve this issue. Hopefully it will get resolved soon.″
A statement from the hotel shared with PEOPLE on Tuesday claims the business "initiated numerous attempts to discuss" the reviews with the guest, but he "refused."
It also includes what appears to be a screenshot of the Tripadvisor app showing the review that mentions "modern day slavery." The review reads in part, "Do not sleep here! Do not support modern day slavery of Thai people! ... The foreigners treat the staff like slaves. There is one that is really bad. He is from the Czech Republic." The hotel's statement claims this was posted on July 29.
The statement details that the hotel reported the review to Trip Advisor "as it contains malicious content promoting intolerance for individuals based on their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or nationality which violates TripAdvisor’s guidelines."
In a statement to PEOPLE, Tripadvisor said it is ″opposed to the idea that a traveler can be prosecuted for expressing opinions.″
″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,″ read the statement. ″... Travelers benefit from the transparency of hundreds of millions of candid reviews provided on our platform. Similarly, the platform allows hoteliers and other travel-related businesses to reply to criticism and engage travelers in what we hope are meaningful and positive dialogues."
"We continue to support our users' right to give honest, positive or negative, constructive feedback to the millions of businesses on our site. We are continuing our investigation into this incident and have reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand."