US Citizen Jailed for Insulting Thai Monarch

Posted December 8th, 2011 at 6:20 am (UTC-5)
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A court in Thailand has sentenced an American citizen to 30 months in prison for insulting the country's royal family by translating and posting online excerpts from a banned biography about the Thai monarch.

Thai-born U.S. citizen Joe Gordon made the postings on his blog two years ago from his home in Colorado. The 55-year-old car salesman was arrested in May during a visit to Thailand.

The court sentenced him to five years in prison, but halved the punishment because Gordon pleaded guilty in October in a bid to receive a more lenient sentence.

U.S. Consul General Elizabeth Pratt characterized the sentence as “severe.” She told VOA that she was concerned about the increasing number of charges against those said to have insulted the royal family.

Pratt said the U.S. respects the Thai monarchy, but also supports the right of free speech for the Thai people.

Gordon's attorney, Arnon Nampa, told VOA the sentence is lower than in similar cases. He says that he will not file an appeal, but instead plans to submit a request for a royal pardon.

Gordon pleaded guilty to translating and posting the banned book, entitled “The King Never Smiles.” The book documents the life of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, alleging that the 84-year-old monarch has slowed the progress of democracy in Thailand.

The offense could have been punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Thailand's strict “lese majeste” laws that forbid insulting the monarchy.

The United Nations and rights groups have urged Thailand to amend the controversial laws, saying they do not conform with the its international human rights obligations and have often been used to silence activists and politicians.

Prosecutions of suspected lese majeste cases have soared since a 2006 coup in the country. Observers have so far been disappointed that the recently elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has not reformed the laws or reduced the number of prosecutions.

Last month, a 61-year-old Thai man received 20 years in prison for sending four “inappropriate” text messages deemed insulting to the queen.

Authorities did not reveal the content of the messages, but said they were “considered insulting to the monarchy and have upset the recipients.”