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Phuket Opinion: Getting fat feeding the fishes

PHUKET: Olga Smirnova, the 53-year-old Russian woman arrested for feeding fish at Koh Racha Yai, who was subsequently held in police cells for two days until a good Samaritan posted the B100,000 bail for her release, must be deeply bitter about her ill treatment at the hands of Thai officials.

opinion, Russian, police, crime, corruption, environment, natural-resources, marine, tourism,

The Phuket News

Sunday 12 March 2017, 09:00AM

A tourist feeds fish at Koh Racha. Photo: Khanchit Klingklip
A tourist feeds fish at Koh Racha. Photo: Khanchit Klingklip

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.



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Sam hayman | 01 April 2017 - 05:53:30

"travesty of justice:, "routine shakedown by police".

Yep, arrested and put in local lockup for a having a few beers and riding the motorbike in a safely manner towards home and then stopped at a checkpoint which targets farung and lets Thai's pass by unchecked.

Then told i would have to wait 2 nights and 3 days in prison before going to court unless i paid B20,000 would speed up the paperwork so i could go to court first thing in the morning and avoid 2 days in prison.

This is whats called a shakedown by corrupt police which target foreigners. Could have been worse however i do love it when i read stories about Thai police shooting each other which has happened at least 3 times over the past year! Now i understand why. What goes around, comes around. Do bad, get bad!

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Jor12 | 13 March 2017 - 19:46:03

The arrest was by the Phuket Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) not Police. The DMCR were responding to concerned environmental groups on Phuket and their "demands". Following meetings, a number of measures have been implemented such as the installation of more mooring buoys to prevent tour boats from dropping anchors on reefs and to put increasing pressure on tour guides to responsibly educate tourists in their tour groups about local environmental laws and the moral responsibility of preserving the environment such as not feeding fish taking coral or fish. As I understand it, as at 5 January 2017, there have been 27 arrests for offence against the Wild Animal Preservation and Protection Act.

Unfortunately, overpopulation is one aspect of environmental issues that are responsible for causing all types of environmental issues, such as water pollution, resources crisis, pollution, land pollution, urban sprawl, deforestation, over production are some common examples of dangerous effects caused by overpopulation. 

So, on the one hand there is a strong presence from interest groups willing to protect the environment and being enforced by the DMCR, whereas other departments may have competing agendas or for whatever reason may not be as diligent in enforcing laws in a sufficiently timing manner for the likes of PN.

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LES | 13 March 2017 - 18:28:44

A well balanced article.For those new to the territory always remember we are the foreigner, we have money and they want it. No use shaking down a local Thai for serious offences, he/she in most cases have little money but a foreigner....well that's a different story.
We should all of course apply to to law and all be treated the same way, but it appears some laws are ludicrous and made up on the spot to obtain money.

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BenPendejo | 13 March 2017 - 17:53:25

Sorry Eagle, but I have to disagree.  The negative commentary here is about corruption, and corruption is bad everywhere it occurs.  If the same thing was happening in my home country, I would denounce it and rag on it just as much, if not more.  Corruption in Thailand is so "in your face" that it is deserving of harsh criticism.  These corrupt police and public officials are nothing more than thieves ripping off their own country and the people that live here...most of which are too scared to call these thieves out, or have just accepted that corruption is an acceptable reality of life here in the LOS.  I hope the PN continues to call it for what it is.

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Concerned | 13 March 2017 - 07:35:51

Mother Nature has nothing against feeding fish with food which is biodegradable – but against littering polluting the sea with trash plastic motor oil glass bottles cigarette stumps snack wrappers etc from humans no matter tourist or locals for this ones they should impose such harsh fines...

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Bjay | 12 March 2017 - 14:22:45

Well said Phuket News! It is well known amongst most expats just how corrupt the Police are!

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Kurt | 12 March 2017 - 12:32:42

Bravo, Phuket news!  Again a nice piece of balanced Opinion.
So well explained.

It is true, we can feel that Thailand has 2 different enforcement 'legs'.
One leg is the 'leg' for thai, the other 'leg' is for foreigners.
The Thai pass through or just get a fine of 500 thb for running a bus of the road, killing and wounding people, even destroying a house.
The foreigner goes for a 2 days lock up( which is a very shocking experience as the foreigner at the time of lock up not knows how long he/she will be locked up)
Than a draconic Bail, that projected on the final just 1000 thb fine makes it a funny thai fairy tail.
Specially when you project this on the case of Thai Red Bull Heir! ( example)
Never locked up, disregard thai courts by just going abroad during court days.
No lock ups, no passport taken. And still not convicted.

It is time thai officials learn to understand the power of virals, socials and apps.
What today happens on a small island off Phuket ( as described by PN) Russians learn that the following day by TASS.
And you can read it anywhere else in the world.
And other news papers like Daily Mail and foreign tv stations went on air with mentioned happening.

In New York people in breakfast shops red it, and talked about as,... "what a big joke, what a nonsense".

Here is a job for TAT to equalize matters in more reasonable ways to handle .
( For keeping up their tourist figures)
I recall in mind, the piling amount of dirt at Chalong Pier recently, a real threat to environment (!) did not work out law enforcement wise, in any arrests/lock ups, bails and fines.
It was even under the eyes of the Chalong harbor master, from behind the glass in his aircon office.
A case worse than a bit fish feeding.

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malczx7r | 12 March 2017 - 11:06:06

What a great article, couldn't agree more!!

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BenPendejo | 12 March 2017 - 10:11:42

Great article PN.  Uncharacteristic of me, I have nothing to add.  I hope there are at least a few Thai officials that have some degree of integrity that read this and realize that something needs to be done about the absurd application of law.  But yeah...I know... it ain't gonna happen...ever.

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simon01 | 12 March 2017 - 09:17:40

The key phrase here is "if enforced fairly and uniformly" which we all know will never happen. We all know the law only applies to foreigners as a means to get money. The same law does not apply to Thais. I agree that the law must be enforced but to only enforce it on a few is pointless. How do the people know what laws appy to what nationalalities. Thai people are allowed to park outside their shops on my street BUT non Thai can not park outside their business. Phukets police system is so corrupt and racist that they are doing far more damage to Thailands image than all the mafia, drugs and prositiution combined. The Police are ruining phuket for the tourists and other nationalities that live here with their corrupt ways and the fact they do not let the law apply to Thai but enforce it for everyone else. So sad as the rules are fair but just not fairly applied. If the law is there then its for all and not just some. 

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