Traveler arrested for saying BKK airport didn’t screen for COVID-19

Passengers arrive Friday morning at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Photo: Coconuts Bangkok
Passengers arrive Friday morning at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Photo: Coconuts Bangkok

A 42-year-old street artist was arrested Monday afternoon and charged with committing a computer crime for saying online that Thailand’s largest airport was not screening travelers for COVID-19.

Danai Ussama was arrested at about 4pm at his home in Phuket by officers from the Technology Crime Suppression Division who told him that he had violated the Computer Crime Act by writing online that Suvarnabhumi International Airport lacked screening measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Danai told online Thai news nonprofit Prachatai that he had traveled from Barcelona and arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on March 17. He said no one from his flight went through any health screening beyond passing a ceiling-mounted infrared camera.

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Writing under the name Zen Wide on Facebook, his post was shared more than 10,000 times before becoming unavailable after his arrest. 

Kittipong Kittikajorn, deputy chief of Suvarnabhumi Airport, said the airport has installed body-temperature scanning cameras throughout the airport’s arrival and departure areas. If the passengers do not show fever or high temperature, they can walk through immediately. If they do, an airport employee will approach them, he said.

Suvarnabhumi is the nation’s busiest airport. On Friday morning, passengers arriving from Moscow met a chaotic scene of closely packed travelers trying to satisfy complex instructions before being allowed to enter. The only health measures involved thermal cameras and a form for people to declare any symptoms on arrival.

Since then, an airport spokeswoman told Coconuts Bangkok on Saturday that social distancing measures have been put in place.

The public has become widely critical of the government response to the outbreak, accusing it of sugarcoating the message, withholding important information and failing to restrict travel as other nations have done.

The Computer Crime Act has become a favorite tool to prosecute dissent. Just two weeks ago, officials threatened to prosecute a celebrity for saying he had been infected by the disease, which has now killed four and sickened more than 800, according to the official tally.

They backed off the threat when actor-boxer Matthew Deane tested positive for the disease.

Correction: A reference overstating the relative traffic of Suvarnabhumi has been removed. It is the nation’s busiest airport, not the world’s.

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