BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai island hotel will go into mediation with an American guest who faces up to five years in jail after it filed a criminal complaint against him over negative online reviews, both parties said on Thursday.
The case involving the Sea View Koh Chang hotel and American teacher Wesley Barnes has drawn new scrutiny to Thailand’s criminal defamation and computer crimes laws, which rights activists say are far too harsh.
The Sea View Koh Chang said in an e-mail that mediation had been set for Oct. 8 with Barnes, who works in Thailand.
“It seems like the hotel is ready to settle,” Barnes said in a message to Reuters. “I will meet them next week to hopefully end this case once and for all. It would be wonderful to have this behind us.”
Police said Sea View Koh Chang had filed a complaint in August after Barnes posted what the hotel described as “false and defamatory reviews” on TripAdvisor and Google after a row over a 500 baht ($16) corkage fee.
The hotel said it had reported the reviews to Tripadvisor and that some of them were deleted by the site administrator.
Barnes was detained on Sept. 12 and released two days later after posting bail, the island’s police said.
Under Thailand’s criminal defamation and computer crimes acts, he could be fined up to 100,000 baht ($3,200) as well as facing jail time.
Barnes has defended reviews he had posted, saying the service had been bad and the restaurant manager was aggressive. He said Tripadvisor did not publish some of his comments.
Tripadvisor has temporarily suspended submissions of reviews of the hotel.
The site said it was investigating the incident with the U.S. Embassy in Thailand.
“Tripadvisor is opposed to the idea that a traveller can be prosecuted for expressing opinions,” it said in an e-mail to Reuters.
Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Martin Petty
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.