Visitors to riot-damaged Thailand, once again under martial law since the bloodless coup to restore order on May 22, are being advised of the serious consequences of openly criticising the military, an action now illegal across the country.
Three months after the coup a Bangkok taxi-driver was sentenced to 30 months in jail after a heated discussion and difference of opinion with his passenger on inequality in Thai society. The passenger recorded the conversation on his cell-phone and handed a copy to the police, after which the taxi-driver was charged with and found guilty of insulting the king. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in Westminster have warned against the advisability of visitors making any political statements in public and counselled to avoid any political gatherings, marches, demonstrations or protests. Since the coup a number of media outlets have been taken off air and a number of websites have been blocked.
Visitors are also being advised that they must, by law, carry their passports with them at all times, and some who haven’t have been arrested. The unpredictable political climate also means that the essential travel insurance policies taken out by visitors could be dangerously invalid.
The difficulties, and the effects of the martial law on business visitors, are acknowledged by the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) which still stresses the quality of the facilities, the service culture, the incentive possibilities and the friendliness of the people as on-going benefits of Thailand for organisers. Whether it really is “Business as usual” as some claim remains to be seen, but what is not in contention is that any event organiser placing business at this time is likely to be especially, and perhaps especially financially welcome.