San Diego couple arrested in Thailand for baring their backsides at a religious site
Thai authorities arrested two American tourists this week for baring their rear ends at a Bangkok Buddhist temple and posting pictures online. They could theoretically spend up to seven years in prison.
The men have been identified as Joseph Dasilva, 38, and Travis Dasilva, 36 — minor Instagram celebrities from San Diego, whose account, called “Traveling Butts,” had racked up 14,000 followers. The account, which has been deleted, showed the married couple exposing their derrières at several international tourist sites. They were detained Tuesday evening while preparing to leave the country at Don Mueang International Airport, and charged with public indecency.
“The two American citizens have admitted taking the picture,” district Police Chief Jaruphat Thongkomol told reporters. A photo released by Thai immigration police showed the couple holding hands, apparently at the airport, flanked by stern-faced agents.
Authorities reportedly brought the couple to the Bangkok Yai police station, and they have paid a fine of about $150 for public indecency.
The temple, Wat Arun, is one of Bangkok’s most recognizable landmarks — several stupa-like pagodas surrounding a high central tower. Signs outside ask visitors to wear modest clothing; shorts and shoulder-baring tops are prohibited.
The couple will likely be deported, Col. Choengron Rimpadee, deputy spokesman for the Thai immigration police, told the BBC on Thursday.
“Once they are through with the charges, the Thai immigration police will revoke their visas and push for deportation,” he said. “They will also be blacklisted from coming back to Thailand.”
Yet other Thai officials have suggested tougher penalties, and the couple’s fate remains unclear.
Jarupat, the district police chief, told the Bangkok Post that authorities were preparing charges of violating the country’s “computer crimes law,” since the pictures were posted online. Jarupat also said they could be charged under Section 206 of Thailand’s criminal law, which prohibits “insulting or defaming a religion.” Possible punishments include two to seven years in jail.
“This is a reminder that everyone should have respect for Thai religion and culture,” the Thai government said in a statement.
Neither the Bangkok Yai police station or immigration authorities could be reached for comment on Thursday.
San Diego Human Relations Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez said the couple had contacted him for assistance, the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News reported Tuesday. “Though I am very disappointed in their actions, I am talking to U.S. government officials to see what assistance we can give them,” he told the news website.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, run by a military government that took power in a 2014 coup. Authorities are highly sensitive about religious matters. Strict lese majeste laws also prohibit even open discussion of the country’s monarchy; in 2015, a man earned a 37-year jail term for posting a joke about the king’s dog online.
The Thai junta introduced the computer crimes law in late 2016, sparking an outcry by activists and civil society groups. Human Rights Watch said the law gave “overly broad powers to the government to restrict free speech, enforce surveillance and censorship, and retaliate against activists.”
The Dasilvas join the ranks of several Western tourists who have been detained for inappropriate behavior at sacred Southeast Asian sites in recent years. In 2015, Cambodian authorities arrested, fined and deported two American women for taking partially nude photos at Angkor Wat, the famous temple complex.
In June 2015, Malaysian authorities detained four Canadian, Dutch and German tourists for posing naked atop the country’s sacred Mt. Kinabalu. They were sentenced to three days in jail and fined.
For more news from Asia, follow @JRKaiman on Twitter