Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Australian tourist jailed in Thailand over souvenir beer mat

[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2008/s2574785.htm] 

The World Today - Tuesday, 19 May , 2009  12:46:00

Reporter: Rachael Brown

PETER CAVE: A Melbourne woman has spent two nights in a Thai jail after being accused of stealing a bar mat from a Phuket hotel.

She has now been granted bail but can't leave the country because authorities still have her passport.

Rachael Brown reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: A fortnight ago, 36-year-old Annice Smoel from Melbourne was celebrating her mother's 60th birthday at Phuket's Aussie Hotel, when she says an innocent prank landed her in a jail cell.

It centres around a beer mat: a rubber-backed, pictured bar towel that she's heard could earn her up to five years in the tiny cell where she spent a weekend.

ANNICE SMOEL: Four metres by four metres concrete slab, big bars, a toilet that makes you feel ill just to look at, that probably has never been cleaned, no toilet paper. They would bring food twice a day and it was food from the street that my Mum and I had joked about in the week leading up to this. 

It sort of looks like it's served in a plastic bag, like we would buy a goldfish. 

RACHAEL BROWN: Ms Smoel has told Fairfax Radio she was released after two nights but says authorities have kept her passport, and she faces a long frustrating wait in Thailand away from her four young daughters.

ANNICE SMOEL: The process here apparently is the police have 48 days to investigate the crime. They then hand it to the prosecutor, who decides whether it's prosecutable, who hands it to the Governor, who decides whether he agrees, then it either goes before a judge or gets thrown out. 

RACHAEL BROWN: Ms Smoel says Thai police know she wasn't responsible for the prank but she says they don't care.

ANNICE SMOEL: There's video evidence in the bar. I was nowhere near the handbag and one of the girls that was involved went down to the police station on the Sunday morning and confessed to the crime and apologised, and they told her to go away. They didn't care. 

RACHAEL BROWN: Bernard Murphy, from law firm Morris Blackburn, is representing Ms Smoel and says initial dealings with Thai authorities have been frustrating

BERNARD MURPHY: It's ridiculous on so many levels. On the worst view, if there had been a crime committed here, it is drunken souveniring of a bar towel. 

But on the best view, they're holding a statutory declaration, a sworn declaration from two other people saying, "This woman didn't do it." The put it in her handbag when she wasn't even there as a joke.

RACHAEL BROWN: Are you worried this may turn into an incident of Thai authorities trying to save face perhaps?

BERNARD MURPHY: We've tried to do this in the way that they want to do it. 

Which is, we've presented them with material, we've made representations to the embassy, we have made representations to the authorities, we've engaged a Thai lawyer. 

We've done all the things to try and get this dealt with in some sensible timeframe. Almost three weeks later, we're still languishing in Thailand.

RACHAEL BROWN: What response have you had from the Federal Government?

BERNARD MURPHY: This morning we had a pleasing response from the Prime Minister. 

It's a very unhappy situation that the Prime Minister of this country should have to intervene in a matter like this but he indicated some resolve in getting the problem fixed.

RACHAEL BROWN: The Victorian Premier John Brumby says the Government will do everything it can to get her back.

JOHN BRUMBY: The Attorney General Rob Hulls has been in contact with Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith this morning. She's a Victorian, we want to get her back. 

RACHAEL BROWN: Mr Brumby says the drama won't help the country's tourism market.

JOHN BRUMBY: I would have thought for the Thai Government and the Thai authorities, at a time of the global financial crisis when everybody wants tourism, this isn't going to help them. Who'd go to Thailand for a holiday if you can get arrested for having fun in a bar?

PETER CAVE: The Victorian Premier John Brumby ending that report by Rachael Brown.


Camfox said...

I think this is just crazy!
We were considering going to Thailand later this year, but too scared to now. I would never want to be in such a crazy situation, they have proven to be unreasonable, unpredictable and ungrateful.

And thanks to all Australians for their generosity after the Tsunami...

Siriruck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Siriruck said...

I think Thailand welcome any tourists who respect the law. I feel sorry for her if her friends did it, not her. She should consider that she's lucky that her friends were clever enough not to put drugs inside her bag in Singapore. She might be hung for drug smuggling. In some countries, the laws are different so respect the law of the country you visit.

presscamera said...

If this woman had been a 45 year old male and the circumstances were the same we would never have heared about it. The media would have never picked up on it and the Australian Government would have not got in involved. So much for sexual equality.
I have traveled to Thailand over many years and the number 1 rule is do not get into an argument or confrontation with Thai People especially the Police. Remember that you are a Farang (a foreigner).
And to respect their system at all times. If you don't like that then stay at home.
If you play by these rules the Thai people are amongst the most friendly and hospitable people in the world.