Govt duty to curb virus hate crime
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Govt duty to curb virus hate crime

A hugely popular Phuket-based Facebook Page, Spotlight Thailand, caused a stir last week with a shameful poster attacking foreigners and tourists in Thailand for failing to comply with anti-virus measures like social distancing and mask wearing in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Spotlight Thailand page which is well known for its role as a whistleblower, exposing state corruption and irregularities, displayed a photo of a man and a woman holding a slingshot captioned with a derogatory remark. They called for foreigners who failed to stay put as requested by the government during the virus outbreak to "get out of the country". The photo, already removed, prompted a big stream of complaints. However, a number of bigoted netizens made no attempt to hold their tongues, bombarding the "irresponsible tourists" with expletives.

Needless to say, such a blunt act is tantamount to a hate crime and must not be tolerated.

It's disappointing that as the controversial post -- on a page which has 600,000 followers -- went viral, the Thai authorities, in Phuket and Bangkok, paid zero attention. Those who were involved in the making the post deserve to get, at least, a slap on the wrist.

The case, to a certain extent, demonstrates at worst the tolerance of hate crime by the Thai state. At best, it was a bit too slow in recognising such a crime, although that doesn't excuse its lack of action against it.

It's true that Phuket is one of the country's Covid-19 hotspots, second only to Bangkok, with 172 confirmed infection cases.

But no matter how many cases are detected, there is no place for racism, discrimination or hate crime. It is the state's duty to make sure such social illness is dealt with proportionately. It's a pity that they did nothing.

This is in sharp contrast to the governments of more advanced countries, a case in point being the attack on a Thai expat in London at the beginning of the virus outbreak in February.

According to media reports, the 24-year-old expat who worked with a law firm in Fulham was assaulted by two teenagers, who called him "coronavirus".

One of them punched him in the face, snatching some valuables from him, while the other video-recorded the crime. He posted the mishap on his Facebook.

When the expat reported the attack, UK police showed no restraint in classifying the incident as a hate crime, rather than seeing it as a typical robbery, and pledged to follow it up.

Several Thai expats in England and some Western countries were offended or shamed, at different levels, in the wake of the virus outbreak.

During the more than three months that the country has been battling coronavirus, there have been attempts to scapegoat foreigners or even Thais returning from abroad as people who heighten the country's risk with regard to coronavirus infection.

There have been efforts made by the state to curb the return of Thais -- a move that is discriminatory by all accounts -- as fears of Covid-19 become hysterical.

There have been cases reported of Thai restaurant owners and traders in Chiang Mai slamming their doors on Chinese tourists, and so on and so forth.

The Thai state has done nothing to reprimand the culprits in each case. In fact, discrimination and racism have even been practised by those in the cabinet.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul dismayed many with his notorious comments criticising foreign tourists on more than one occasion.

The first was when some foreign tourists refused to accept face masks from him and his team at an electric train station.

He did not wait for a second to blast them, and also threatened to report the trouble to their embassies and to "kick them out of Thailand".

A few weeks later, when he made a visit to the northern region, and spotted some foreigners without face masks, he attacked them again.

He called them dirty tourists taking Thailand as a safe haven as they flee from the virus in Europe.

He has never apologised or showed remorse for setting such a bad example.

It might be prudent for the government, in particular, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta and those under him, who tend to spend much of their time counter-attacking critics of the government, to take a break and shift their attention to this extremely important matter.

Racism and hate crime are as bad as the virus. Mr Buddhipongse and stateauthorities must give these incidents more serious attention to stop discrimination becoming socially acceptable in these troubling times.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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