U.S. Citizen Joe Gordon, 54, who was born and raised in Thailand, was formally charged on Thursday (August 18) with insulting the country's monarchy (lese majeste), a severe offense that carries a penalty of upwards of 15 years in prison. Gordon allegedly translated parts of an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posted articles online that were deemed to have defamed the royal family. He was arrested in May, and detained for the maximum 84 days that a suspect can be held without being charged.
COMMENT: On Friday (August 19), the US Embassy in Bangkok expressed its disappointment at Gordon's being charged and has urged Thai authorities to respect freedom of expression. It is understood that the US State Department has an obligation to attempt to help American citizens when they run afoul of foreign laws, but in this case Gordon was not subject to torture or harsh treatment. He was detained and held under Thai law. The fact that he lived in Thailand for some 25 years demonstrates that he should have known the sensitivity of making disparaging remarks toward the Royal Family. I actually served as the Regional Security Officer at the US Embassy for a number of years and recall very well cases that would arise from time to time whereby foreigners made derogatory remarks about the Royal Family. Hence, it is so surprise that Gordon has gotten himself into trouble. We should also be mindful that freedom of expression has its limits in other countries.