In recent weeks a pattern of reported incidents of harassment, random daytime searches, detention and intimidation suggest an organized campaign by police is targeting tourists and foreign nationals.
Although it’s difficult to verify or substantiate many of the claims, the sheer number that have been raised in correspondence, online forums, blogs and news reports would indicate a higher than normal level of such incidents.
“It seems like its getting worse and worse, a lot of friends are getting stopped and harassed, particularly around Thong Lor,” said a foreign national living legally in Bangkok, who requested anonymity for fear of further harassment.
A private Facebook group created this past weekend to share such stories has already gained more than 200 members, some of whom told of systematically being stopped, searched, threatened with arrest and sometimes asked for money.
A video posted Tuesday purportedly showing authorities conducting a random search on Monday near Asoke.
An expat resident living in the Phra Khanong area said he was walking home from 7-Eleven at 6pm early last month when he was ordered to stop by a man wearing civilian clothes. Concerned that it was a scam, he kept walking. At that point the man grabbed his arm and pulled his badge out.
“Then this English guy crosses the road and says ‘You’ve been acting suspicious … I want to see your passport,’” he recounted.
They refused a photocopy of his passport and phone image of his visa. “He kept saying ‘I’m here to help you,’ but he seemed there to help shake me down. They wouldn’t let me go.” They put him in an unmarked pickup truck with the windows blacked out, and he was relieved when they actually took him to a nearby police station.
“They wanted to urine test, they wanted me to sign a document,” he said. “I refused.” When he told them his lawyer was coming to the station, “they lost interest” and eventually fined him THB100 for not carrying his passport and released him.
Many reports have been in the Thong Lor area. An expat resident living in the area claimed that on Monday police forced him to the Thong Lor Police Station for a urine test. When he couldn’t produce, he says they forced him to drink four liters of water and pressed forcefully on his bladder to make him urinate and touched his penis.
Another foreigner says he was taken to a police station where someone said they wanted to see his phone, and then proceeded to search through his messages and emails while refusing to return it.
Another man reportedly came downstairs from his building to refill water jugs from a filtration machine. He was detained and said the police wouldn’t let him go back upstairs to fetch his passport.
Again these reports cannot be verified, but they’re numerous and bear many similarities. The details and locations vary, but they almost all involve men stopped during the daytime while alone and compelled to take urine tests.
In a letter to the editor published in the Bangkok Post, Reese Walker described her “Thai holiday nightmare.” Walker wrote that soon after arriving in Bangkok, she was riding in a taxi with her fiance when they were stopped by police and ordered out of the cab. Without comment, police subjected to “a frightening and humiliating search at the side of the road.” They were eventually allowed to leave. The next night they were walking near Asoke intersection the same thing happened, with police laughing at them and ordering her fiance to take a urine test. “This is our first and last visit to Thailand. The atmosphere is intimidating and oppressing.”
An article posted Friday to an Asian travel blog describes the “rapidly increasing policy of harassing Western visitors and residents in Bangkok.”
“… such individuals are now regularly being stopped by Bangkok police, where they are interrogated, searched, and made to contribute urine samples. This policy has become infamous in the tourist areas controlled by the Thong Lor and Lupini district police. Westerners are routinely stopped at random on the street, in taxicabs, and when traveling on motorcycle taxis. The stops are held day and night. When stopped, the individual is asked for identification, to empty the contents of pockets and purses for inspection, and a urine sample may be demanded as well, to be given and analyzed on the spot. Those not having proper identification or papers may be taken to a nearby police station, where they are held temporarily until the issue is either resolved or remanded to the Thai court system.”
In another unverifiable account, someone claimed online the 71- and 72-yearold parents of “a friend” were recently detained and ordered to take a urine test while coming out of the Terminal 21 shopping mall.
Non-white foreigners including Japanese expats have also reported being stopped by police.
An investigator at one of the police stations reportedly involved said he was unaware of any “crackdown” or arrests of foreigners.
“It could have been drugs-related charges, but those arrests are of colored people,” said investigator Chaliew of the Khlong Tan police department, who refused to give his last name. “Mostly drugs and illegal immigration charges. … There haven’t been many arrests of white people … like Americans.”
Although Thailand is operating under the emergency provisions of Martial Law, that only applies to the Army and its soldiers – not the police force.
According to Section 93 of the criminal code, searches conducted in public are prohibited without probable cause. The code states searches are only allowed by police officers when there is probably cause to suspect someone has something in their possession that is illegal, will be used to commit a crime or was obtained through commission of a crime.
Of course there’s a subjectivity to “probable cause” that’s going to lean toward the officer’s interpretation.
Chokwan Chopaka of Thai Legal Firm said although random searches are nothing new, their office has had a surge of inquiries from people who’ve experienced such incidents, which seem to be happening during the daytime and mostly targeting men.
She advised anyone stopped to use common sense and be aware they do have some rights.
“If they’re going to search, first have them show their hands to make sure they’re empty,” she said.
Women have a right to request a woman police officer to conduct the search, which probably means going to the station. If they demand a urine test, you can refuse to do it on the street and insist they conduct it at the station or in a clinic.
Also carrying adequate documentation is advisable.
“Foreigners should at least carry a photocopy of their passport. Not just the front page, but also the visa page,” she said, adding that photos on your smartphone are likely to be rejected.
In case police detain you or take you into the station, insist on calling your attorney – even if you don’t have one. You can also insist they contact your embassy.
“Don’t sign anything and tell them you want to call your lawyer,” she said. “At a minimum, call a friend and get them involved – preferably Thai.”
And no matter how righteously wronged one may feel, there’s nothing to be gained by showing anger. Stay polite and don’t raise your voice.