An American hotel guest could be sentenced to prison in Thailand after posting negative reviews of their stay in late June.
Wesley Barnes, an American working in Thailand, faces seven years in prison for defamation and violating the Computer Crime Act for allegedly posting fake claims online, according to The Associated Press.
Sea View Koh Chang Hotel said that Barnes had posted “defamatory” reviews on multiple platforms, including TripAdvisor, and that public harassment from the reviews had escalated, prompting hotel officials to seek help from police and authorities.
“First, we have made numerous attempts to discuss with the guest to stop their series of fabricated, recurring and harmful public reviews for our employees and our hotel,” the hotel said in a statement to NBC News.
Reviews of Barnes indicated that the hotel had “modern slavery” and “xenophobic” claims against a hotel manager. “He also left comments that could mislead readers into linking our property to the coronavirus,” the statement said.
The hotel on Koh Chang Island in southwest Thailand alleged that Barnes had a dispute with hotel staff over a cork fee for alcoholic beverages brought to the hotel restaurant. Hotel officials said the hotel waived the fee after talking to Barnes. “However, in their reviews, the guest claimed they had been forced to pay the cork fee,” the statement added.
In a review On TripAdvisor, Barnes wrote about “unfriendly staff” and selected a hotel manager.
He said Tuesday that he hopes to clear the matter with the hotel soon.
“I will delete my review and never talk about it again,” he said via email. “I just want to forget that this ever happened.”
TripAdvisor removed Barnes’ initial review of the hotel because it did not meet the travel site’s review guidelines, said Brian Hoyt, director of global communications and industry affairs for TripAdvisor. Barnes then submitted another assessment that met the requirements.
“TripAdvisor is against the idea that a traveler can be prosecuted for expressing an opinion,” the company said. Fortunately, such law enforcement operations are rare around the world, and hundreds of millions of travelers can express themselves freely without being prosecuted.
“We are continuing our investigation into this incident and are about to reach the US Embassy in Thailand,” the website said.
NBC News has contacted the US Embassy in Thailand, the Thai Police and the State Department for more information on the case.
Thailand’s defamation law and criminal charges, which can be applied to public comments, have been called for by activists and critics, according to the AP.
The Associated Press and Abigail Williams contributed.