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“The owner of the Sea View Resort lodged a complaint that the accused had published unfair reviews of his hotel on the Tripadvisor site,” Koh Chang police colonel Thanapon Taemsara told AFP, stressing that Barnes was accused of “damaging the reputation of the hotel.” ”
As a result, Barnes was arrested and spent a weekend in jail before being released on bail. If convicted of criminal defamation, he could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht (approximately 8,486 Canadian dollars).
“We chose to file a complaint for the sake of deterrence because we understood he could continue to write negative reviews week after week for the foreseeable future,” a representative for the hotel told CBS News.
But instead of preventing damage to the resort’s reputation, Barnes’ arrest created a public relations nightmare for Sea View Koh Chang, sparking an explosion of negative online reviews, bad press and even threats from dead, according to staff.
Thailand’s economy is largely fueled by tourism, an industry hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic since the Thai government banned nearly all foreign nationals from entering the country until October 1, within a few exceptions.
The country’s defamation laws have long been criticized by human rights activists, who claim they are being used to muzzle free speech in the country – and Barnes’ legal ordeal can make it difficult to attract foreigners when the country reopens.