While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Thai laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
In this connection, it is a criminal offense to make negative comments about the King or other members of the royal family. Thais hold the King in the highest regard, and it is a serious crime to make critical or defamatory comments about him. This particular crime, called “lese majeste,” is punishable by a prison sentence of three to fifteen years. Purposely tearing or destroying Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, may be considered such an offense, as can spitting on or otherwise defiling an official uniform bearing royal insignia.
The Thai Government has publicly stated that it will not tolerate the use of Thai territory as a base by groups trying to overthrow or destabilize the governments of nearby countries. Numerous American citizens have been arrested or detained under suspicion of carrying out such activities; sometimes these detentions are carried out by military authorities, and the Embassy does not learn of them until many days after the fact. Many other Americans suspected of advocating the armed overthrow of other governments have been “blacklisted” from entering the country. Americans should be aware that attempts to overthrow foreign governments by force may violate U.S. law as well as Thai law.
Penalties for the possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Thailand are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, and often heavy fines as well. Thailand also has a death penalty for serious drug offenses, and has executed convicted traffickers. The U.S. Embassy frequently does not learn of the arrest of U.S. citizens for minor drug offenses, particularly in southern Thailand, until several days after the incident.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Thai police occasionally raid discos, bars, or nightclubs looking for underage patrons and drug users. During the raids, they typically check the IDs of all customers in the establishment, and then make each person provide a urine sample to be checked for narcotics. Foreigners are not excused from these checks, and anyone whose urine tests positive for drugs is arrested and charged. Although some Thai civil libertarians have questioned the constitutionality of these forced urine tests, the Embassy is unaware of any successful challenge to the practice, and customers can be jailed if they do not cooperate.