Death penalties for selfies

For some, this is a dream come true – death penalties doled out for tourists taking selfies.

That’s exactly what the Thai Government is proposing for photographers on Phuket’s longest beach – Mai Khao Beach in the Sirinat National Park.

Crowds gather at this tourism hotspot to watch low-flying planes landing at nearby Phuket International Airport (HKT). Many tourists can’t resist the opportunity to take selfies while the planes fly at heights that feel close to being within arm’s reach.

The practice has become so popular – and so distracting to pilots – that Phuket airport officials have told tourists to stop taking photos or face the death penalty.

“We are setting up a safety zone which will be categorised as a strictly prohibited area that does not allow people and tourists to take pictures,” said Phuket airport’s deputy general manager Vijit Keawsaitiam.

Photos taken in this zone will be treated as a violation of the Air Aviation Act of 1978, in which the death sentence is the maximum penalty.

Airport officials suggest that taking selfies at this spot can be as distracting as pointing laser pens at pilots or flying drones close to planes and, if the worst were to happen, hundreds of passengers could be at risk of death themselves.

While not all selfie-takers will get the maximum penalty, many can expect ‘more lenient’ punishments of 40,000 baht ($1,254.70) fines or 20-year jail sentences.

Is that Instagrammable moment worth the risk? You can bet many will still think so. But Thailand is not a country with which to gamble when it comes to harsh penalties for tourists.

Many may know of Thailand’s harsh drug laws, but just as many may not know that Thai authorities also often wave a big stick at tourists for non-drug related offences, then let them off lightly.

According to Fodor’s, in 2017, a pair of Instagrammers bared their bums on camera in front of a sacred site and were charged with ‘religious insults’, which carry a jail sentence of seven years. They were eventually let off with a fine.

In 2007, a Swiss graffiti artist sprayed over posters of Thailand’s late king, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and was sentenced to 75 years in prison. However, the artist was pardoned by the King one month after being convicted.

Photographs will not be totally off-limits at Mai Khao Beach. Tourists can still snap away from positions outside the restricted area.

Do you think death penalties are fair for selfie-taking tourists?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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