Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Update: American Citizen Receives 2.5 Years in Prison for Insulting Thai King

As a follow-up to my October 10 report, concerning US citizen Joe Wichai Commart Gordon, 55, a Thai court earlier today (December 8) sentenced Thai-born Gordon to 2.5 years in prison for defaming the country's Royal Family by translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of the king and posting them online.

Judge Tawan Rodcharoen said the punishment, initially set at five years, was reduced because Gordon pleaded guilty in October. Defense lawyer Arnon Nampa said Gordon would not appeal, but would apply for a royal pardon.

COMMENT: Actually, the sentence is viewed as a slap on the hand compared to the 20-year sentence received by Amphon Tangnoppakul, 61, in November for sending four text messages deemed offensive to the queen.

Gordon posted links to the banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej several years ago while living in the U.S. Hence, his case has raised questions about the applicability of Thai law to acts committed by foreigners outside Thailand. Yet, given his guilty plea, this issue is somewhat moot.

Gordon had lived in the U.S. for about 30 years. He was detained in late May during a visit to his native country to seek treatment for arthritis and high blood pressure. After being repeatedly denied bail, he pleaded guilty in October in hopes of obtaining a lenient sentence.

Thailand's lese majeste laws are the harshest in the world. They mandate that people found guilty of defaming the monarchy — including the king, the queen and the heir to the throne — face three to 15 years behind bars. The nation's 2007 Computer Crimes Act also contains provisions that have enabled prosecutors to increase lese majeste sentences.

As a former diplomat in Thailand, one thing I learned very early on during my assignments there was the grave risk in saying anything offensive about the Royal Family. Considering that Gordon was born and raised in Thailand and speaks Thai, he should have known what could happen for criticizing the King. His biggest mistake was returning to Thailand for inexpensive medical treatments.

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