News / Asia

Thai Court Jails American for Insulting Thai Monarchy

Thai-born American Joe Gordon gestures as he answers a reporter's question upon his arrival at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, December 8, 2011.
Thai-born American Joe Gordon gestures as he answers a reporter's question upon his arrival at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, December 8, 2011.

A court in Thailand has for the first time jailed an American citizen for insulting the Thai monarchy in blog postings made from the United States.  U.S. authorities have called the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence "severe" and expressed concern about a string of recent prosecutions involving freedom of expression.  

Thailand’s criminal court Thursday found American citizen Joe Gordon guilty of insulting the Thai monarchy, a serious offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.  

The court sentenced him to five years in prison, reduced to two years and six months because he changed his plea to guilty in hopes of leniency.

Gordon was arrested in May for allegedly translating parts of a locally-banned book about the Thai monarch and posting them online.

Although he was born in Thailand and also goes by the Thai name Lerpong Wichaikhammat, Gordon became a naturalized U.S. citizen and lived there for decades.

Lèse-majesté

The alleged offense, known as "lèse-majesté," occurred two years ago when the car salesman was living in the United States.

Elizabeth Pratt, the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, said Thursday the sentence against Gordon was severe because it involved freedom of expression.  She said that, to her knowledge, it is the first time an American citizen was jailed for insulting the Thai monarchy.  

"Well, we are troubled by the recent prosecutions and court decisions that are not consistent with international standards of freedom of expression," she said.

Last month a 61-year-old grandfather was given 20 years for sending text messages deemed insulting to the Thai queen.

In March an anti-government website developer was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Thailand’s laws against lèse-majesté, are the strictest in the world and make it illegal to say or publish anything that defames the revered King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, the queen, or crown prince.

Harsh punishment

Those found guilty are punished with three to 15 years in prison for each offense.

Anyone can raise charges and the police are obliged to investigate.

Fear of being accused of disloyalty also means a high conviction rate and harsh sentences.

Gordon’s lawyer, Arnon Nampa, said the sentence was lower than in other cases.  However, he says the law used to prosecute royal insults, article 112, needs to change.

He says the book about the Thai king was published by Yale University Press and his client only confessed to translating it. The content of the book, he says, is only about the monarchy and politics. If you ask him if the sentence is fair, he says, in his opinion Article 112 conflicts with freedom of expression.

Political purposes?

Rights activists and academics say prosecutions of alleged lèse-majesté have soared since a 2006 coup and that the law is abused for political purposes.

The military claimed one reason for ousting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was disloyalty to the monarchy, which he denies.

Observers assumed the election this year of his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, as prime minister would lead to a roll-back of prosecutions.

But her government has gone out of its way to show it supports the law, even establishing a “war room” of cyber police to search out online offenders like Joe Gordon.

Lawyer Arnon says he will work with the U.S. Embassy to seek a royal pardon for Gordon.  The 84-year-old Thai King usually dismisses sentences against foreigners but Arnon says the process can take as long as six months.

Increased overseas cases

The case against Gordon was an example of Thai authorities expanding prosecutions to offenses committed overseas.  In the last year, they also appear to be broadening interpretation of lèse-majesté.

They brought charges against a website operator for not removing postings by bloggers quickly enough.

A Thai academic was charged for comments allegedly made about the king’s youngest daughter, who is not covered by the law.

Authorities have also threatened legal action against users of Facebook who click “like” or “share” on any pages or comments deemed offensive.

King Bhumiphol Adulyadej Thursday pardoned and reduced sentences for thousands of prisoners as part of a general amnesty given every year for his birthday.

Thai media report most were jailed for lesser crimes such as drug-related offenses though two were convicted murderers who dismembers their victims.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid