Tourists in, not so human rights friendly countries.

A question about visiting places like Cuba or China. Not for myself, I doubt I’ll ever save enough money to get out travel to other countries, and even if I could, I very seriously doubt I’d go to either of these countries, but out of curiosity, I have a couple of questions.
Of course, the answers will vary depending on which country your talking about, but this is for anyone who knows about, or has traveled to a country that’s not known for human rights and/or a fair and just legal system (China, Cuba, some of the more hard-core Islamic countries…)

  1. How easy or hard is it to get arrested? For example, are you fine just as long as you don’t bad mouth the government, or do people get arrested for things that were never illegal in their country? Lots of people visit these countries and even set up businesses there, so I guess there isn’t too much worry that they’ll get arrested, but I assume that you’ll want to read up on their laws very carefully before going?

  2. Are people arrested in these countries treated the same, better, or worse than the citizens of that country? For example, if an American, or British tourist gets arrested in China, will concerns about diplomatic relations with America or Britain cause China to give a lighter jail sentence, or, once you’re arrested, you’re pretty much screwed?

  3. Does bribery go a long way in all or most of these countries? For example, I’ve heard that if you’re arrested in Mexico, if you can pay off the Federales, you’re off the hook.

It might sound like I’m lumping all of these countries together, but what I’m looking for is a responce like
“As far a Cuba goes, the answer to point number 1 is…”
or something like that.

The only country I can give you info on is Cambodia, where I spent several days last winter.

I was with a tour group, so opportunities to get in trouble were limited. At least in Cambodia, and probably in lots of poor dictatorships, tourism is big business, so they’re not looking to scare away a major source of income. Our guide had a glass-blowing business on the side with a Canadian expat, who seemed to have no problems doing business there, although having a local to work with and navigate the system probably helped.

Having not gotten arrested, I can’t speak to what prison conditions are like, but I imagine they’re not pretty. We did have a bribery situation, in which our guide had to pony up some $$ to armed military men so that we could visit the Floating Village. This was a pretty standard bribe that had to be paid every time.

That’s about all I can tell you from first hand experience. I have heard that Mexican officials are getting tougher to bribe these days, FWIW.

Yeah, that was something I was thinking. Tourism is a big source of income for most of these countries, so foreigners probably wouldn’t have too much to worry about.

hmm, I wrote a guidebook for tourists on China nearly 20 years ago, and it’s gotten a lot friendlier since.

As a tourist it’s pretty hard to get arrested. Most of these countries have special “foreigner” police. They don’t want the hassel, and tourist dollars are important to many of these coutries. Speaking of which, the standard of living is also pretty low so the amount of money required to resolve a “misunderstanding.” and I don’t even mean a bribe. There may be a $1 dispute. To the local on the other side that’s a lot of money, to you it’s insignificant pocket change.

You really have to do something outrageous to get arrested as a tourist in China. I’ve seen plenty of activity that would get you thrown in the slammer in the US that is tolerated in China. Avoid politics. But hell, even 20 years ago you could discuss politics on the train and no one gave a shit.

I really only know of one guy who was truly arrested and thrown in jail in China for a month. He’s normally so high and mellow, it probably took two weeks to figure out he was in jail.

Westerners would be treated better, at least at first. Embassies do visit their citizens doing time.

There are horror stories of people getting thrown into jail or house arrest owing to business disputes. usually when it’s bad it is with a person who usually had Chinese citizenship growing up and then naturalized. Unless you actually formally renounce your citizenship, then the Chinese may still legally consider you a citizen and not grant any special rights. Even worse are those who left China, get foreign citizenship and ten return on their Chinese passports.

There is bribery, but in all my years in China I have never had to bribe anyone.

Thanks China Guy.

So far I’ve pretty much gotten the responces I thought I’d get.

I wouldn’t visit Afghanistan anytime soon. :wink:

It’s only vaguely on-topic, but there was a BBC series by Ben Anderson before the Iraq war, called “Holidays in the Axis of Evil”. Obviously not real holidays - but the guy pretended to be a real tourist. In Iraq, he managed to get included in an archealogical bus tour. Much of it was tours of valid archeological sites. But of course they also showed Saddam’s rebuilding of Babylon, with his name in every tenth brick. (The same location appeared on CNN a year later, when the US forces gained control). The few scenes he could capture of Basra show why the Iraqis claim that nothing has changed - watchtowers everywhere, armoured vehicles in the streets, curfews? All the same as before.

Anyhoooow…He found Libya to be thoroughly apolitical. He just got shown pirates of Titanic or bad porn, where other countries would feed him propaganda. North Korea was fascinating - his government-designated guides clearly took a liking to him, and were able to enjoy his company, but as soon as they had to answer questions they froze and returned to party diktat.

As for Iran - he was arrested and deported after three days, for espionage charges. Obviously, no footage survives. I’m not sure if he went to Cuba, the silly Jeb-pleasing inclusion to the axis.

The same guy has since done “Meet the Stans” - a trips through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan etc., exploring their peculiar position as ex-Soviet, pro-US states with problems of Islamist terrorism in their midst. And recently “The Violent Coast”, picking out the warzones of West Africa.

The guy is mad.

Here is a fascinating story told by an American, living in S. Korea, that takes a tour of N. Korea. It is definitely worth the read - quite fascinating.

Dang, I figured that nobody would be visiting N. Korea, a place where the people starve and KIM Chong-il threatens the world with nuclear war.

Has anyone written more humorous articles like the ones Heinlein wrote about his seeing Russia?

Here’s the Official N Korean tourism pages. And the Lonely Planet pages make interesting reading - they do acknowledge the difficulty of getting visas.

Someone in my flying club recently visted Cuba (he has a bison herd and had sold some to Cuba – Cuba has lots of grassess but not much grain, bison need less grain than cattle). He found people friendly, open and I don’t anyone in the group thought the poilce/goverenment overbearing. But they were official guests (even had dinner with Castro) so that may have afected things.


Cuba was only put in the Axis of Evil for the sake of Jeb’s popularity in Miami. It has well over a million tourists visit each year:

I went to Cuba about ten years ago, and spent a couple of weeks there. I didn’t go legally – I had to go from the US via Canada.

Cuba is very used to tourists – Canadians and Europeans have been going there for years.

I had an absolutely wonderful trip. At no time did I feel that my activities were restricted. I went wherever I wanted to go (although at that time Cuba was suffering from a gasoline crisis, and it was pretty hard to get around. I kept mobile by making informal arrangements with the drivers of state-owned tour buses).

The people were great. Many people, especially those who work in the tourist industries, speak pretty good English. Everyone was friendly, even when they discovered I was from the US.

Travellers should be careful about the usual tourist scams and hustles, but that’s about it.

Go. Enjoy. You’ll love it.

Well, Thailand is not always so friendly about tourists doing drugs. In bar raids like the recent one at the Q Bar farangs (westerners) were targeted in the raid. Warning: the linked page is work safe, but some things on this board are not.

They are very invasive raids with large penalties. The raids are especially high profile because an election is coming up. The embassies are not helpful in insuring foreigner’s rights, because essentially rights are non-existent.

I can understand the frustration of the Thais at times because its image to much of the world implies that anybody can do whatever they want there without considering the folks that live there. (Yes, drug use is mostly a victimless crime but would you want a bunch of people coming to where you live to get amphetamines?)

My experience is that, generally speaking, the police do not target you. Like others have said, they need the tourist dollars. As far as specific countries:

Cambodia (visited in 1999): Had to bribe the customs officers $10 to get into the country. Didn’t have any trouble in the country.

Bolivia (lived 2000): Bribery is a fact of life. I needed to bribe the customs officer to get my work visa. Of course, it’s not called bribery, it’s a ‘bet’ as in, I bet you $50 you can process my visa application sometime this month. Yikes.

To be honest, I have been really lucky. I didn’t have any problems in Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, or Indonesia.

It doesn’t rank as low on the human rights scale as most of the other countries listed here, but with all this talk about Tourist-Loving Cops I just had to chime in with my experiences in Serbia. Namely, they seem to go out of their way to hassle foreigners (mainly to ensure you’ve registered as required with them). It got to the point where I just kept my mouth shut whenever I got within hearing distance of the police so they wouldn’t know to hassle me.

I reckon they’re bored, and tourism isn’t a big enough industry there for them to worry about wrecking it.