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Defamation laws come into play quite often in U.S. society, even as they vary a little state by state. Other countries also seek to protect a person’s or institution’s reputation from untrue statements in the form of slander or libel.

A recent Thailand case sheds light on that country’s severe defamation laws.

Enforcement of law spurs criticism

The NY Times reported the arrest of an American living in Thailand for running afoul of the country’s defamation laws. Critics claim the law silences debate and stifles dissent. The man in question posted a negative online review of a resort after it charged him a high corkage fee for his own bottle of wine. The resort then filed a complaint with the police, citing harm to the resort’s reputation. Authorities arrested the man and placed him in prison for the weekend. He could face up to two years in prison if convicted of criminal defamation.

The publicity generated by the arrest and potential harsh penalty resulted in an outcry of criticism against the resort and the harsh penalties of the law. Thailand’s defamation law is occasionally used by companies to silence dissenting voices. This is not the first time the law resulted in global criticism.

Repeal of criminal defamation in the U.S.

According to the ACLU, 24 states currently have laws on the book that make defamation a criminal law. New York state does not have a criminal defamation law. In recent years, eight states repealed criminal defamation laws. States with criminal defamation laws penalize convicted offenders with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. In the other states, civil lawsuits are the means for punishing those who engage in defamation.