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American hotel guest in legal trouble in Thailand over negative hotel reviews

"We are continuing our investigation into this incident and are in the process of reaching out to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand," a TripAdvisor official said.
Image: Thailand traveler complaint
The coast of Koh Chang island, Trat Province, southern Thailand on March 2018.Phusit wirutthanatporn / AP file

An American hotel guest may be facing a prison sentence in Thailand after posting negative reviews about his stay in late June.

Wesley Barnes, an American working in Thailand, could face seven years in prison for both defamation and in violation of the Computer Crime Act for allegedly posting falsified claims online, according to The Associated Press.

The Sea View Koh Chang hotel said that Barnes left "slanderous" reviews on several platforms, including TripAdvisor, and that public harassment because of the reviews escalated, prompting hotel officials to seek help from police and authorities.

“First, we initiated numerous attempts to discuss with the guest to stop his series of fabricated, recurrent and damaging public reviews to our staff and our hotel,” the hotel said in a statement to NBC News.

It said that Barnes’ reviews made references to the hotel practicing “modern slavery” and “xenophobic” claims against a hotel manager. “He also left comments that could mislead readers to associate our property with the Coronavirus,” the statement read.

The hotel, which is on Koh Chang island in southwest Thailand, claimed that Barnes had a dispute with the hotel staff over a corkage fee for alcoholic beverages brought into the hotel’s restaurant. Hotel officials said that after discussions with Barnes, the hotel waived the fee. “However, in his reviews, the guest claimed that he was forced to pay the corkage fee,” the statement added.

In one review on TripAdvisor, Barnes posted about “unfriendly staff” and singled out a hotel manager.

He said Tuesday that he hopes to resolve the matter with the hotel soon.

“I will delete my review and never speak about them again,” he said by email. “I just want to forget this ever happened.”

TripAdvisor removed Barnes’ initial review of the hotel because it did not meet the travel site’s review guidelines, Brian Hoyt, TripAdvisor’s head of global communications and industry affairs, said. Barnes then submitted another review that did meet the requirements.

“TripAdvisor is opposed to the idea that a traveler can be prosecuted for expressing opinions,” the company said. “Thankfully, on a global basis, prosecutions like this are rare, and hundreds of millions of travelers are able to express themselves freely without facing criminal charges.

“We are continuing our investigation into this incident and are in the process of reaching out to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand,” the website said.

NBC News has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, Thai police and the State Department for more information regarding this case.

Thailand’s defamation law and criminal charges that can be applied to public comments have been called out by activists and critics, according to the AP.