The paltry fine of B1,000 that was eventually handed down must have only served to further rub salt into her wounds. The fact that she was locked up and her passport confiscated for this misdemeanour is a travesty of justice and only serves to highlight the capricious nature of law enforcement in Thailand.
It seems likely that her arrest was a routine shakedown by police. It is also likely that many tourists have been arrested for feeding fish and threatened with jail and massive fines if they didn’t cough up a “fine” on the spot to make it all go away.
It appears that Mrs Smirnova either didn’t have the money, or refused to pay – forcing the police’s hand out of the cookie jar and dragging this case into the courts and therefore the media spotlight. As a result the case has highlighted the obtrusive use of Thailand’s legal system and the shabby treatment of foreigners unlucky enough to be caught up in it.
It seems when a foreigner is charged, and the case is in the news, the government suddenly has to demonstrate it is doing everything by the book. This stands in stark contrast to the business-as-usual approach of letting murderously negligent drivers off with a slap on the wrist, transferring trigger-happy killer cops to another province without a hint of punishment and turning a blind eye to egregious violations of environmental laws by businesses which discharge untreated wastewater into the sea – the list goes on.
Let it be clear that The Phuket News does support the enforcement of environmental laws, and other laws, most of which if enforced fairly and uniformly would make Thailand a better place for both Thais and foreigners. But it is extremely difficult to respect authorities who use the law as a tool to intimidate and extort foreigners one moment and then ignore it at their convenience the next.
An argument could be made that such cases serve to set an example to others that a law exists and must be obeyed. However, if you wish to employ this argument with any credibility and fairness, then taking a stand on fish-feeding laws, and not negligent driving causing death, seems a strange place to draw a line in the sand.