Stickman Readers' Submissions September 7th, 2005

Do Farangs Have Any Rights To Self-Defence?

Do Farangs Have Any Rights to Self-Defence in Thailand?

If I am attacked by a Thai (or by another foreigner, for that matter) do I have the right to defend my self, either with my hands and feet or with sticks, stones or a “real” weapon?

A little intro as to who I am: I am a retired American, and my wife, who is nearly my age, is a retired Chinese business lady. We are people of some means, but we eschew the higher social circles, preferring the company of ordinary people.

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I cannot seem to get any Thai person to address the question of self-defence, they simply say “we should not fight”. Well, no kidding, at my age, 57, why would I want to fight?

I had an experience 6 months ago that left me wondering about the whole issue of Foreigner Rights, and further wondering if we are all just “prey for the hunters” here in Bangkok. My wife and I were walking along Sukhumvit, on the odd-numbered side, from Soi 33 towards the Emporium. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, but still daylight. As we walked across the Soi 35 intersection, a motorbike brushed close behind us, and the rider on the back scooped up my wife’s purse, snatching it cleanly away from her. She screamed, and I immediately turned, ran, and pulled the rider off the back of the bike. The driver of the bike then lost control, and his motorbike slid on its side into a concrete lamp post. The purse fell loose from the clutches of the thief, and my wife recovered it.

The thieves, instead of brushing themselves off and running away, first stared at us in amazement, and then began shouting in Thai. Suddenly we were surrounded by angry Thais, most of them either street people or moto-taxi drivers. Within a few moments, a lone Thai Police officer showed up on his motorbike, and broke up the crowd, but the Thais were all still screaming and shouting, and pointing their fingers at me.

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I speak no Thai, and none of the Thais would speak to me in English. Eventually, a Thai police officer showed up that spoke reasonably good English. I took him to one side, and I repeated the whole story to him over and over until I was sure that he understood it. He understood, but his final comment to me was “You should not have fight with thief, bad for you to fight.”

Well, after a while, a patrol car and then another showed up. My wife and I were driven to a police station in one car, and the two thieves (free, not in handcuffs) were driven there in another car. We all four gave statements at the station.

And, naturally, it finally all came down to money. The thieves were “injured” and their motorbike was “broken”, and they wanted reimbursement.

The English-speaking police officer seemed to be acting now as a mediator or negotiator acting on behalf of the thieves. I was outraged and I told him so. I made all sorts of threats, and I demanded that he arrest the thieves, to which he said “cannot, no witnesses”.

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I took my wife under my arm, and plainly explained to the officer that I had friends at the American Embassy and that I would have him fired if he pursued this nonsense. (Not that I have any such connections, but it sounded good) With that, my wife and I simply got up and walked out of the station, no one followed us, nor did they demand that we continue the upside down inquisition.

Again, I cannot find anyone that seems to definitively know what our rights are. Perhaps, as in all things Thai, it depends on how well my Thai opponent is “connected”, and how much “Tea Money” I am willing to give to the police.

How about weapons? I have only gotten one definitive answer on that, from a Thai Police Chief, who said that unless I was a Registered Money Courier, and listed as such in my work permit, that I have no right to own or carry a concealed firearm. OK, so I won’t be playing either the Dirty Harry or the John Wayne role. How about a knife? May I either openly (or concealed) carry an effective fighting knife, like a Bowie or a Randall?

Was my experience typical of Thailand, and do I have any rights at all to self-defence here in Bangkok?

Stickman's thoughts:

This really is an excellent question and there is no simple answer.

As can be clearly seen from your experience, justice did not take place at all and you were very nearly innocent victims – saved by your quickly thinking.

Carrying weapons in Thailand would not be a good idea at all, even if at times it seems to be warranted. And as much as I hate to say it, if the thieves had attacked you and you had gone on to beat them up, even if only using "reasonable force", you would have been in trouble.

While I don't wish to condone violence, in any altercation with Thais, even if you are in the right, it is advisable to flee the scene quickly. Little good comes of going back to the police station as you found out.

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