Knowing Your Rights: Police Checkpoints & Bribes
On a typical car ride back from school, within a span of 15 minutes, I come across numerous police checkpoints, most of which are unauthorized and take the facade of random checkpoints to “enforce road rules.” Surprisingly, underage motorcycle drivers not wearing helmets pass through without ease, while any foreigner is deemed suspicious, and forced to undergo exhaustive, unprofessional bureaucratic processes. Is this a just way of practicing criminal law?
Simply, police checkpoints for specific purposes such as inspecting vehicle exhaust emission and conducting breathalyzer tests are permitted, however, those which obstruct traffic flow by creating bottlenecks, are highly illegal. The Metropolitical Police Bureau (MPB) active chief had ordered such checkpoints to be removed, however many officers continue to conduct such checkpoints under the radar.
For foreigners or ex-pats in Thailand, comprehending the intricacies of Thai law is a tedious task. The typical shakedown includes the police asking to see your passport, and conducting urine drug tests by the side of the road. Failure to do so will result in a fine, or rather bribe, of 5,000 baht, or a night spent in a local cell. With international pressures from the media, the Thonglor Police Station has begun distributing leaflets to foreigners as to their rights. The rules are as follows:
1. Searching foreigners
- Foreigners may take photos of police officers who conduct the search before and
during the searching process
- Searching has to be done in a place with sufficient lighting, and not desolate
- Do not pay money to police officers whether asked to or not
- If you are a passenger in a vehicle or taxi, officers must be operating in a proper
checkpoint under the control of a commissioned officer
2. Urine testing must be performed at the police station
3. Foreigners may carry a copy of the first page and entry stamped page of their passport instead of the original one
4. If any problems are faced, you may call the tourist police at 1155
Despite somewhat straightforward rules, there is ambiguity in the legitimacy of police stations primarily due to constant bribe and corruption complaints. Following the recently published ‘new style’ of checkpoints, officers must be ‘polite’. Officers must show their badges and tell the driver their name, and their commander's name. Suwat Jangyosuk, the National Police Chief states that new measures are meant to promote transparency and boost the reputation of Thai police.
The push for transparency comes following complaints of police forcing bribes from drivers through checkpoints - a common experience for visitors or residents in Thailand. Many travel websites emphasize the prevalence of police corruption in Thailand, while others even offer tips on how to partake in such practices to 'fit in'.
Just the other day, a video of a truck driver handing an officer in Pathum Thani's Thanayaburi district a 100 baht note circulated on Facebook. Chayut Marayat, the provincial police chief, highlighted the importance for officers to ‘behave appropriately’. Although, with many citizens unaware of their legal rights at checkpoints, occurrences of corruption and bribery will continue to hamper the ability of Thailand’s criminal justice system to become fully legitimate.