[This post is only expressing own opinions, non-related to my agency].
People who want to stay in Thailand for more than 30 days for travel, work or other purposes have to get a Non-Immigration Visa. For more than three years I was living in Thailand with a Non-Immigration Visa (ED, Student) but it was time to change to a real work permit. With the right papers from your employer it usually takes 2 weeks, sometimes a bit more. But my whole process took nearly 14 weeks and I stumbled upon a variety of upsetting hold-ups and snafus.
Since I work as a correspondent I applied for a Journalism Visa after submitting all of my papers (work-contract, work-samples, passport scans, pictures etc.) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited me to an interview. I had no idea what they wanted to ask me but I thought it might be about my education and experience.
Surprise No 1: One of the first critical questions was what my view on the monarchy was. I was clearly asked if I had problems with the King or the monarchy in general.
Surprise No 2: They were very serious in asking me why I am focusing on human rights & censorship and why I didn’t want to cover politics in my home country of Germany instead of Thailand.
After these questions were asked there was a glimpse of clarity for me when they referred to a report from the MICT (Ministry of Information & Technology) about my blog being blocked two times before. I explained to them that I was not aware of writing anything offending in regards to the monarchy (lese majeste laws). I also never changed any content after publishing to appease them and bring the blog back, and yet it never stayed blocked for long.
A file with my name on it was opened and I could not believe my ears when I heard the quotes. The official was reading out selections from my blog posts & tweets (some of them over a year old). The content was mostly about critical issues within Thai culture, the monarchy or Thai politics.
So at this point in the process I temporarily had a feeling I never had before in Thailand: Fear. Why was the MICT storing my blog entries and tweets from over a year ago?
I really do like George Orwell’s 1984 and I am very aware that certain elements exist world wide but you never realize how unfare and frightening it is until you really get in touch with it.
The idea they were sending me was very clear: ”We are watching you – be careful’
As I mentioned before I only felt like this temporarily. I cannot do my job without being critical and I could never live a life where people are censoring me.
After the interview I was told that the process was taking longer because the MICT had to look into the case before it could be approved by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. At that point my existing visa ran out and I did a visa run. I called the Foreign Affairs office every two days asking for updates but there was never a clear answer except ‘please wait’. My news agency as well as my colleagues helped by calling the Ministry asking them to be clear about any problems. After weeks of silence I was notified that they were doing a huge background check on me. Foreign relations, the crime division & even the Thai intelligence unit were involved. Another few weeks of silence and I had to take a second visa run to extend my stay.
Finally my permit got approved including a new invite for another interview. The meeting had quite a tense atmosphere with lots of fake smiles and phrases like “We want you to be a friend of Thailand”. I was taught again how laws (lese majeste) are structured in Thailand. I constantly had the feeling I needed to justify myself for things I haven’t done. It was a pain.
I know that this post is public and probably will be read by the MICT/Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am posting this because I felt absolutely misjudged and I didn’t like the threatening nature of the interviews. I never got an apology or any explanation.
I never committed any crime or offense – quite the contrary: I am not only a ‘guest’ who is respecting Thai culture & values – I am engaged in several development projects in Thailand. I do volunteer teaching and help in many humanitarian projects around the country. I love Thailand and always try to present it in a good way. I recently shot a video project for the Ministry of Culture entitled “What it means to be Thai” which received great resonance from Thai officials.
I don’t like to post too much personal stuff on my blog but this topic was very upsetting to me & I wanted my colleagues to be aware of the intense monitoring of the media & press in Thailand. Free speech is one of the most important factors in Journalism and we all have to realize how important it is to our life.