As a writer living in Thailand, over the last nine years, I’ve noticed how dismal freedom of the press has become. Newspapers aren’t able to publish stories too critical of the government, thousands of websites are shut down every year, and western visitors have been imprisoned under Thailand’s lèse majesté law. That’s why it’s important writers and bloggers who travel in Thailand need to be aware of what they should and shouldn’t say, should and shouldn’t do, as writing or saying the wrong thing, even while traveling in Thailand, can result in being arrested and imprisoned.
Why Is Thailand’s Ranking So Low For Press Freedom? – The new Reporters Without Borders ‘Press Freedom Index 2010’, (see below for link) released last week, demoted Thailand from a ranking of 130 out of 178 countries, to its 2010 ranking of 153 out of 178 countries. Thailand’s press freedom ranking is now only marginally higher than countries like North Korea, Vietnam, Libya and Somalia.
Thailand’s rankings have dropped this year even further, due to the deaths of two foreign journalists (Japanese and Italian) during anti-government protests in Bangkok at the beginning of the year. The government still has not released an investigative report of the deaths but anti-government protesters believe they were shot by government soldiers. Thailand also consistently shuts down websites it deems ‘anti-government’ or that have statements the government believes are against the King of Thailand, as Thailand has a lèse-majesté law which prohibits anything that “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent.“
Writers and bloggers are arrested in Thailand every year, with several western writers arrested or charged with lèse-majesté in the last few years. These include the BBC’s Jonathan Head, Australian writer and blogger Harry Nicolaides, and British/Thai citizen Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Professor of Political Science at the prestigious Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. As far as I know, Jonathan Head has not set foot in Thailand since, Harry Nicolaides was imprisoned for months before being deported to Australia and Mr. Ungpakorn fled to England when he knew he was going to be arrested.
What Should You Do and Not Do If You’re A Writer or Blogger Traveling in Thailand?
Don’t Write or Blog About The Thai Royal Family – Don’t write about or blog about the King of Thailand or any of the Royal Family. Westerners don’t always know what may be offensive to Thais about the Thai Royal Family, so it’s best to not mention any member of the Thai Royal Family at all. Also note this even extends to minor members of the Royal Family and, in certain circumstances, can even extend to members of other royal families. So, if you’re British and you have strong opinions about the Queen, don’t express them until you leave Thailand, as someone may overhear you and, in extreme circumstances, report you. I’m not joking. I wish I was.
Writing About The Thai Royal Family Outside Thailand – If you live in a country that has press freedom better than Thailand, which is most of the world, when you get back home, can you write or blog about the Royal Family? Yes, you can. But…..be aware, if your writing or blogging is easily tracked to you and you do say something detrimental (whether intended or not), you may find yourself arrested on a subsequent trip to Thailand.
If you think this isn’t possible, ask Australian writer and blogger Harry Nicolaides, who was arrested at Bangkok’s airport after arriving from out of the country when a book he had written, that sold around five copies, was deemed to be offensive to the Thai Royal Family. So, unless you don’t mind not being able to come to Thailand for the rest of your life, I’d say, don’t.
What About Writing About Politics While Traveling in Thailand? – Yes, of course you can write about politics while traveling in Thailand. Many writers in Thailand do.
However, be aware, the current government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has clamped down on what they perceive as ‘anti-government journalism and websites’. In some cases, government officials have used the lèse-majesté laws to shut up writers or bloggers they think are anti-government, accusing them of saying something against the King, simply because their writings are perceived as being anti-government.
It’s not likely you would be accused or arrested while traveling in Thailand, unless you’re here for a long-term trip and writing consistently anti-government writings, but it could happen. So simply weigh up the risks before publishing.
Writing Negative Hotel, Restaurant and Business Reviews – Thailand has a history of companies who take their detractors to court for libel, after the writer has written something about a business the business doesn’t like. Should you feel the need to write something negative about a business in Thailand while you’re traveling here, particularly if you’re going to be here for a long-term trip, make sure you document anything negative you’re writing about with photographs, so your claims can be proven if challenged.
Overall, all of this sounds much scarier for writers and bloggers traveling in Thailand than it actually is – for most writers. The secret is to think things through before you write something, particularly if you’re publishing it while still in Thailand, don’t say anything about the Thai Royal Family, and make sure you have photographic evidence if you write negative content about a Thai business.
Thailand is still a beautiful country to visit and Thais are lovely people, but for writers and bloggers it has laws and restrictions most other countries in the world do not and you should know that, as a writer, before traveling to Thailand. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.
Thailand – A country under surveillance for lack of press freedoms on the internet (here you’ll find a list of people, including westerners, who have been arrested or are being charged with lèse-majesté – Reporters Without Borders
Reports on Thailand’s press censorship – Reporters Without Borders