Tourists Reporting Harassment Surge by Thai Police

Tourists Reporting Harassment Surge by Thai Police

Posted in:

Low-paid street cops theorized to be seeking additional income by targeting tourists

Since the 2014 coup that ousted the democratically elected government and implemented martial law, many tourists and expatriates in Bangkok have fallen prey to a criminal practice. The victims have little recourse when reporting incidents to police, as the perpetrators are the police.

The Twitter feed of former Lonely Planet author Joe Cummings, is riddled with stories detailing police harassment and extortion. “Random police searches of foreigners in BKK is getting bad,” reads a typical entry dated Dec. 6. “Many reports of innocent tourists forced to pay bribes.”

As tourism receipts and indirect tourism activity account for 15% of Thailand’s GDP, why would police be allowed to make omelets from Thailand’s golden eggs? The most popular theory is that low-ranking street cops, some of whom earn as little as $1 an hour, are seeking out new sources of income. Foreigners are easy targets, as they can be intimidated and are comparatively wealthy compared with the local population.

“This explanation says the takeover has placed the police, traditionally at odds with the military, in some sort of frenzy amidst proposed restructuring that is likely to deeply disrupt the way the police have operated — both formally and informally,” said Thai political analyst Saksith Saiyasombut.

Although Bangkok saw 16.42 million tourists in 2014, numbers were down nearly 2 million compared with the previous year. The drop is attributed to several factors, including a reduction in Russian tourists due to the declining ruble, an increased fear of flying in wake of the Malaysia Airlines tragedies and general uncertainty about the coup itself. If action isn’t taken to rein in the Thai police, tourist numbers may plummet further.

“The coup makers came with a mission. And that mission is to rebuild an orderly and clean society,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Japan-based Thai political scholar who had his passport revoked for criticizing the military-led government. “They even bizarrely announced a new campaign, Tourism and Martial Law, to promote the idea that society under martial law is pleasant. It will not work, because they don’t understand either the logic of tourists or indeed the economy of tourism,” he added.