BANGKOK – According to a news article by Lindsay Murdoch a growing number of tourists in Bangkok are being stopped, searched and harassed in the main tourist precinct of the Thai capital. Sometimes they are led to a service station toilet and asked to provide a urine sample, supposedly to determine whether they have consumed any illicit drugs.
But according to letters to newspapers, blogs and even a specially set-up Facebook page, the targeting of foreigners is to extort bribes.
For months officials have been stopping foreigners on busy Sukhumvit Road and demanding to see their passports.
One person described the scene outside a coffee shop where two city inspectors and two policemen were stopping many foreigners.
“They were thoroughly searching tourists and their belongings, asking them to produce passports,” the person told the Bangkok Post. “Many of those unfortunate souls were then detained and I saw them paying money to the officials … one girl was reduced to tears and was obviously very upset.”
A blogger who attempted to get first-hand evidence of an apparent shakedown was chased by officers and had to hide in a mall.
Mark Kent, the British ambassador in Thailand, tweeted on Thursday that he has raised the issue with Thailand’s tourism authorities.
The reports come at a time when the country’s tourist industry is struggling to recover from a military takeover in May following months of political upheaval. Martial law giving authorities wide powers remains in force, including the banning of gatherings of more than five people throughout the country. Officials have the power to search any one or any place.
No statistics are available on how many people are stopped and searched on Bangkok’s streets or how much of the supposed “on the spot fines” actually reaches police coffers.
Meanwhile, responding to the article Pol Lt Gen Prawut Thawornsiri said Police are probing the report that some Bangkok police officers have been extorting bribes from foreigners on Sukhumvit Road.
Similar claims – including those that some foreigners have been subjected to on-the-spot urine tests for drugs — have become increasingly frequent, with the Bangkok Post having received three letters to the editor about the alleged scams and other media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal highlighting them in the past month.
Mark Kent, British ambassador to Thailand, brought up the subject of the tourist-searches with Ministry of Tourism and Sports officials who claimed there was no organized campaign targeting tourists and that they would investigate claims of random searches.
The Australian newspaper report said officials for months have been stopping foreigners and demanding to see their passports in an attempt to extort brines. The “officials” referred to police officers and city inspectors.
Pol Lt Gen Prawut told ASTV Manager that the RTPO is examining the facts to see if the alleged extortion targeting foreigners occurred and if fake or real policemen were involved.
He said if the probe found no evidence as claimed the RTPO will submit a written clarification to the Australian embassy in Bangkok. He said the alleged incidents of extortion by Thai authorities in the Australian paper really damaged the image of Thailand.
Pol Maj Gen Apichai Thi-amart, chief of the Tourist Police Division, said he had not been made aware of the incident but ordered an investigation into the matter. Bangkok Post, The Sydney Morning Herald