Travelling the world is an incredible thing to have the opportunity to do, but it can also be a considerably dangerous activity. The world is a big place, and even in today’s metropolitan world, laws differ hugely from place to place. It is extremely important to research the country that you wish to visit thoroughly, because you never know what (seemingly harmless) activities could land you in serious trouble.
For example, whilst driving on Germany’s infamous Autobahn (a massive highway on which there is no enforced speed limit), it is actually illegal to run out of petrol. Stopping on the Autobahn is forbidden, excluding car accidents and cases in which stopping is completely necessary… but the German government do not class running out of petrol as a legitimate excuse! Since 1992, chewing gum has been illegal in Singapore, because the government were sick of people littering the streets with it. Singapore enforces this law very strictly. Certain citizens can get permission to chew gum, but if they do, they have to get a prescription from a doctor to certify that they are chewing gum for oral health benefits. The truly unbelievable part is that if they get a prescription, they have to add their name to a national gum-chewers registry! In 2011, the use of ketchup was banned in French cafeterias, with the French government making the move to try and conserve a respect for authentic French cuisine. French school children are no longer permitted to put ketchup on their meals – except once a week, when French fries are served. Putting ketchup on traditional French dishes is a big no-no.
There are thousands of cases of tourists being arrested abroad every year, unaware of the foreign laws of the land. While a large majority of these people are trouble makers and drug smugglers, there’s certainly a percentage who get arrested abroad because they innocently broke a law that they were not aware of. Take a look at our list of 6 shocking examples of times when tourists were imprisoned abroad, for some true vacation horror stories.
6. Offensive Tattoos- Sri Lanka
In Spring of 2014, a British tourist named Naomi Coleman was arrested in Sri Lanka – because of a tattoo on her arm. Her tattoo depicts a meditating buddha. Mrs Coleman didn’t even make it out of the airport before the authorities stopped her and took her in for questioning. Buddhism is the dominant religion in Sri Lanka and is a massive part of their culture. Thus, anything perceived as derogatory towards Buddhism is taken incredibly seriously by the police. According to reports, Mrs Coleman’s tattoo was perceived as a religious insult and thus authorities saw fit to ban her from entering the country. Mrs Coleman was ordered to be deported from Sri Lanka by a judge. Previously, the Sri Lankan government sentenced three French tourists to six months in prison for jokingly kissing a Buddha statue.
5. Eating and Drinking – Dubai
Religion is not something that should be taken lightly when travelling abroad. Even if you have a personally lax attitude to religious teachings and customs, you shouldn’t take that attitude with you to religious countries. In Muslim countries, the month of Ramadan is a sacred time of prayer and reverence. During Ramadan, you are not permitted to eat or drink in public during the day. Being caught eating or drinking during daylight during Ramadan is taken very seriously and is punishable by law – even if you’re a tourist. In 2008, a Russian woman was arrested for drinking some juice in a gas station in Dubai during the fasting period. The woman ended up having to pay a fine to escape imprisonment. The steep fine of 2,000 dirhams (over $500) was the only way to avoid a 1 month prison sentence!
4. Going Commando – Peru
In March, two Canadian tourists named Marc Antoine Daudelin and Patrice Mathieu were arrested on Machu Picchu, an Inca heritage site. The Canadians apparently stripped off and took naked pictures of themselves at the popular tourist destination. What probably started off as a stupid stunt landed the pair in a huge amount of trouble.
Bizarrely, the practise of taking naked pictures at the heritage site seems to have become a bit of a trend. Before the Canadian men, groups of US and Australian tourists were arrested by Peruvian authorities for doing the same thing. Famously, a videotape emerged last year of a couple streaking across the ancient site. The Peruvian authorities appear to have had enough, however. Their frustration is understandable, as Machu Picchu is a cultural heritage site of huge importance to the people of Peru. Recently, Peru’s Minister of Culture branded the behaviour of the tourists as “disrespectful” and appealed for the practise to stop.
3. Insulting the Monarchy – Thailand
The monarchy – particularly king Bhumibol Adulyadej – is very well respected in Thailand. So much so that even sharing a negative opinion of them can land you in huge trouble. There is an official law in place in Thailand which bans anyone from insulting the monarchy. This is heavily enforced, to the extent that even stepping on Baht (the official currency of Thailand) can get you thrown in jail, as the notes are emblazoned with an image of the king. Stamping on money is seen as an act of the utmost disrespect to the royal family. Many Thai tourist guides even advise travellers to pick up dropped coins with their hands, instead of stopping them with their feet as is common practise in the Western world.
Harry Nicolaides, an Australian author, was held for many years in Bangkok for publishing a book which contained a satirical paragraph about the royal family. Despite the fact that the book was self-published and only sold a measly seven copies, Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in prison.
2. Blacklisted Because of Your Name – USA
Earlier this year, a French woman named Aïda Alic was travelling from Geneva, Switzerland to New York for a holiday. However, before she could board her plane, the Swiss authorities swooped in and stopped her, saying that they had been told not to let her on the plane by US border control. Mrs Alic was sent home with no explanation, and her flights were not refunded. She has been interviewed by several French newspapers and television stations since, and she claims that the reason she was banned was because of the similarity between her name and that of the terrorist group “Al Qaeda”. Funnily enough, Mrs Alic pointed out that her name is actually pronounced “Alitch”, and thus bares little resemblance to “Al Qaeda”. Mrs Alic was subsequently blacklisted from the US without an official explanation. Although its not technically an arrest, this one was shocking enough to warrant inclusion!
1. Drug Smuggling – United Arab Emirates
Everyone knows that drug smuggling is wrong, and many people caught smuggling around the world every year deserve the punishment they receive. In the East, drug trafficking laws are famously severe – in some countries, such as China, being caught smuggling large amounts of drugs can result in an automatic death sentence. However, the severity of drug trafficking laws is sometimes mind-blowing.
Take the case of Keith Brown, a man who was travelling back to the UK from Dubai in 2007. A speck of cannabis weighing 0.003g (about the same weight as a single grain of sugar) was detected at airport customs on the bottom of one of Mr Brown’s shoes. Mr Brown was subsequently jailed for four years. Four years is now the minimum penalty served by anyone found to be transporting drugs (no matter how minute the amount) through the UAE. Frighteningly, travellers can even be convicted of possession if there are traces of the drug in their blood or urine. Unfortunately, many tourists are still ignorant of the zero-tolerance policy for drugs in the UAE.