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Sensational claims by UK’s Sun tabloid are challenged as Thai police take a criminal action against media outlets and online posters over the damage caused to local interests

Claims by a UK teenager published by UK tabloid newspapers in relation to an alleged incident on Koh Tao island have been questioned by Thai police who are pursuing the prosecution of a local media outlets and those involved in a Facebook page who repeated the claims.The reports have been damaging to local Thai interests and the inhabitants of Koh Tao island who rely on foreign tourism. Although Thai police have expressed strong doubt about the claims, they have made arrangements to take testimony from the UK teenager at the centre of he controversy to complete their enquiries.

Thai police warn about spread of fake news online as they investigate claims of rape by a UK backpacker on Koh Tao island
Thai police have questioned the claims of a UK teenager that she was attacked and raped on Koh Tao island on June 26th 2018. They have now sent two high powered teams to the islands and conducted a rigorous investigation which has yet to find evidence to support her claim. Deputy Chief of the Thai Tourist Police Surchate Hakparn also known affectionately as ‘Big Joke’ in Thailand has taken a personal interest in the case. He has warned that there will have to be consequences if it is found that the UK teenager is not telling the truth. He has also admonished online users in Thailand about the dangers of spreading false information which is a serious criminal offence under Thai law. In this case Thai authorities are concerned that sensational press reports in relation to a criminal offence that was never reported and which may not have happened has  been aired extensively on internatiomal media defaming the Koh Tao and local tourist interests. (Picture source: Ch3Thailand TV – News report)

It has emerged that the UK young woman at the centre of the claims is a teenager from south London. Deputy Commissioner Major General Surachate Hakparn is reportedly ready to travel to the United Kingdom to take part in the process. Meanwhile there are media reports that the British embassy in Bangkok is concerned that the UK woman did not contact UK consular officials after the alleged incident opting instead to report the matter to the media. The UK teenanger’s story, which has received sensational attention from tabloid newspapers in the UK, is being investigated by London’s Metropolitan Police. It is believed that Thai authorities are in contact with the UK police through the British embassy in Bangkok.

Arrest warrants reportedly sought for two media editors at the centre of false reports

Meanwhile, Thai police are reported to be seeking arrest warrants for the editors of two media outlets under Thailand’s computer crime laws for tarnishing and damaging the reputation of Koh Tao island after the publication of reports based on the claims of the female backpacker to the island in June. She has allegedly claimed that she was raped but failed to report the matter to local police despite filing a report on an adjoining island for theft in order to make a compensation claim. One of the editors reportedly sought is Suzanne Emery of the long established Samui Times website serving Koh Samui. The other is a US Thai national who administers a Facebook page which took an avid interest in the story when it was first reported.

Major and in depth investigation launched into UK woman’s allegations

The resulting sensational tabloid reports on UK newspapers prompted the Thai police to launch a major investigation into the claims reportedly made by the young woman. The British teenager was asked by investigating authorities to return to Thailand to cooperate with the police and their enquiries. The thorough examination of the claims included initially a visit to the island itself by a high powered team lead by Pol Maj Gen Apichart Boonsriroj, the Police Chief in Surat Thani province where the island is to be found. After the investigation, the police reached a conclusion that the reported assault and rape, as alleged by the woman, could not have taken place.

Thai police have assured foreigners that the island is safe as well as beautiful

When the news reports first broke Thai police assured the public that  sensationals claims about the beautiful island were unfounded. They assured visitors that no serious incidents have been reported on the island since the dramatic events of 2014 when two young people from the UK were brutally murdered by two migrant workers from Myanmar. In 2015 there were press reports that a woman from the UK had been found dead on Koh Tao but hai police, after an investigation, discovered no evidence to suggest that the death of Christine Annesley was due to anything but natural causes. Christine, a New Zealand born woman who lived in London, had been reported as taking antibiotics for a chest infection on the island before just before she died.

Murder of UK couple in 2014 sparked a barrage of claims and speculation

There is a growing pattern of sensational coverage of Thailand by foreign press and particularly the island of Koh Tao since the murder of 23 years old Heather Witheridge and  24 year old David Miller on the island in 2014. That unfortunate incident led to worldwide press coverage and since then, a barrage of sensational claims which seem to build one upon the other.

In December 2015, two men from Myanmar were convicted of the murder of two young British people in 2014 after a huge police investigation. They were sentenced to death and are currently appealing that conviction. The basis of the appeal against the conviction is that the evidence was not conclusive it is a matter for the Thai courts. However, the family of David Miller from Jersey, one of the victims, has indicated complete satisfaction with the Thai police investigation and the subsequent successful prosecution of the Myanmar men, Representatives of the family have followed the matter closely. They had also attended the trial in Koh Samui which returned a guilty verdict in late December of 2015.

Police in Thailand act to preserve the country’s reputation as well as unearthing wrong doing

Thailand’s police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said recently that the case would be closed soon unless new evidence was found. ‘If more evidence is found, things will clear up. I won’t tolerate vagueness. If police were in the wrong, I’ll take action,’ he said. According to the police, there had been many false reports of crimes against foreign tourists which had a negative impact on tourism, and confirming that there have not been any serious incidents against tourists in the past four years despite damaging and false online speculation.

Police give details of police investigation into UK woman’s claims after teams visited Koh Tao

The investigating team that arrived in Koh Tao island to investigate the UK woman’s claims found a somewhat different picture to that reported in the tabloid western newspapers.

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They interviewed the owner of the hostel where the UK woman stayed on the island, 32 year old Phatra Jaemtrakul. The UK woman, reportedly from south London, had stayed there with 5 men. She had initially booked the hostel for June 21st to 23rd but later extended her stay on the island until June 26th. The hostel owner told Thai police that she had arranged to meet the woman at the popular Fish Bowl Bar on the night of June 25th but she failed to turn up to the rendezvous. It was the following morning when the UK woman told her that she had been drugged, dragged to the beach, raped and also robbed. Phatra impressed upon the UK woman to report the incident to Thai police on the island immediately but she failed to do so. It appeared she was in a hurry to get to Koh Phangan for the popular Full Moon Party.

UK man turned up 8 days later and asked to file a report to police on behalf of the UK woman

8 days later, she told the Thai police, a male friend of the UK woman presented himself to her and asked if he could submit a rape complaint on the woman’s behalf. The Thai woman escorted the gentleman to the police station but the officers there insisted that such a report could only be made by the victim and principal witness. She would have to present herself for the complaint to be officially taken. The Thai woman also revealed that she was informed that this man had had a personal altercation with the boyfriend of the UK woman on the night of June 26th.

UK woman’s male companion dominated conversation looking for documentation for compensation claim at Thai police station

The Thai police chief who led the initial investigative team to Koh Tao, Pol Maj Gen Apichart Boonsriroj, has also revealed that on Koh Phangan island the UK woman later presented herself at a police station with a male friend to report the loss of property. The duo wanted to file the report in order to be able to claim compensation under the terms of an insurance policy. Police in Koh Phangan insisted that such a report would have to be made in Koh Tao island where the incident took place. At this meeting with Thai police the UK woman’s male companion was reported to have dominated the conversation and explained to officers that they simply needed a signed document for the purposes of securing a compensation payment. Significantly, the police complaint being made by the UK woman and her male companion on Koh Phangan, was for the loss of 3,000 baht, a debit card and a mobile phone.

Thai police find no basis for tabloid Koh Tao claims spread online as police await woman’s testimony

After the newspaper report in the popular UK tabloid, The Sun surfaced, a task force led by Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, the Deputy Tourist Police Commissioner, also travelled to Koh Tao to investigate the British woman’s rape story.

Thai police have now comprehensively investigated the reports of rape made by the UK woman that have reached Thailand with what information they have to hand in the absence of detailed complaint from the woman herself. Thus far, they have found no basis for the claims and have initiated proceedings against a local media outlets and Facebook page for repeating the UK woman’s as yet unfounded claims. The action being taken by Thai authorities is on the basis that these reports, which were not founded on the basis of a proper investigation or even formal complaint, have damaged local interests and defamed the island of Koh Tao.

Thai police believe claims by UK woman as reported may be impossible as they report on some findings

After examining forensic evidence, interviewing witnesses and checking relevant documents, Thai investigators reportedly came to an initial conclusion that it was not possible that the rape claims by the UK woman, as reported in the press, could be true. The Deputy Commissioner of the Thai Tourist Police also revealed that there have been a number of incidents of false claims made by foreign visitors on Koh Tao and Koh Samui in respect of compensation claims. He said that the police were taking legal action in relation to these cases and this may include blacklisting those involved from re entering Thailand.

The Police Chief revealed that Thai police had requested that testimony from the UK woman be taken through the UK diplomatic channels. They had earlier requested that the woman return to Thailand to provide details of the alleged incident to investigating Thai authorities. Preparations are now understood to be underway for this process to take place.

Thai police give assurances on integrity and willingness to pursue the truth

Following the latest controversy and investigation, the police chief went further and assured anyone concerned with the reports that they could rely on the integrity of the Thai police and authorities. ‘I’d like to insist that we will never protect any crime or negligent official,’ General Hakparn is reported as saying. He also insisted that the Thai police had a primary goal of seeking the truth and defending Thailand’s reputation. It was then reported that Thai police are seeking arrest warrants for journalists associated with the dissemination of the story.

Spreading false and damaging information is a  serious criminal offence in Thailand

Surachete said that spreading false information was a serious violation of Thailand’s Computer Crime Law. Thai police had repeatedly invited the UK teenager to aid the investigation since the story broke. It has now been reported that Thai authorities having contacted the UK woman through the British embassy are ready to attend an interview with her in the UK to assist further with their enquiries. They have suggested that it might take up to a month to receive her evidence. ‘We are waiting for her testimony,’ General Hakparn had earlier told the press in Thailand and later was reportedly ready to travel personally to the UK in relation to the matter. He insisted that Thai authorities were anxious to have a balanced picture of what occured in June. Police Major General Hakparn also had a warning. ‘If her words are not true, we need to press charges against her on false complaint, blacklist her and prevent her from entering Thailand indefinitely,’ he said.

Arrests already made involving followers of a Facebook page, editors are being sought

Media reports in Thailand suggests that the editor of the Samui Times, which was one of the first news outlets to report the UK woman’s story, will face charges under Thailand’s cybercrime laws. Suzanne Emery is reportedly to be prosecuted under the Computer Crime Act although there is as yet no reports of an arrest.  Arrest warrants have also been sought and already executed against up to twelve Thai nationals who are followers of a Facebook page which shared reports of the incident. Thai police are reported to be still actively engaged in tracking down the editor and other participants.

The case illustrates the importance of exercising extreme caution in Thailand when commenting and posting news on social media to do with the country’s affairs particularly on sensitive topics which have the potential to cause economic and reputational damage to Thailand. The Thai nationals already arrested could be facing penalties including a prison term of up to five years.

Thai police chief warns online users to exercise caution and care before posting

Police Chief General Surachat Hakpan has warned that people who share their content online can be held liable too under Thailand’s wide ranging law. The police chief also known affectionately as ‘Big Joke’ in Thailand, is well known in the country and associated with an ongoing extensive campaign to root out undesirable foreigners. Tis is part of the Thai government’s drive to improve security and to make the country a more welcome place for ‘good’ foreigners. This has seen campaigns and police operations to removing scammers, criminal gangs and those interfering with security and good order in the country. The policy has the support of many foreigners who are often the victims of such activity.

Good guys in, bad guys out as Thai police await evidence of UK woman

Speaking to the press the police chief pointed that although Thailand had record numbers of  foreign tourists (expected to rise near 40 million for 2018) who are valued by the country, there is also a need in Thailand to ramp up screening for harmful visitors. The ongoing campaign and drive by the Thai police and immigration authorities has the slogan – good guys in, bad guys out. Gen. Surachate Hakparn was also clear that Thai police have concluded at this stage that the reported rape assault on the British woman did not take place even though he stressed that they are waiting on the UK woman’s evidence which has been actively sought out and in the process of being obtained.

Thailand’s Computer Crime laws are no joke

Thailand’s Computer crime laws are very wide ranging and can lead anyone open to prosecution even for repeating suspect or fake news, comments that are untruthful or even using reaction buttons on social networks such as the like button on Facebook. In January this year, a blind Thai woman was jailed for 3 years for sharing a controversial article on Facebook written by a Thai British academic. The sentence was subsequently reduced to 18 months in prison. Her legal representative explained that the woman was unaware of the consequences of what she was doing online. Foreigners living in Thailand, visiting Thailand or even commenting on Thailand from abroad, must exercise care particularly when forwarding news reports of a sensational or controversial nature which may negatively impact Thai nationals or interests in Thailand.

 

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