|King Bhumibol is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and is revered as semi-divine by many Thais [Reuters]|
A US citizen has been jailed for two and a half years by Thai authorities for translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online.
Joe Gordon, a Colorado resident who was born in Thailand, had pleaded guilty in October to using the internet to disseminate information that insulted the monarchy, charges stemming from material posted on his blog in the US.
“The defendant is found guilty … The court sentenced him to five years in prison. But he pleaded guilty. That makes the case easier, so the court decided to cut it in half to two years and six months,” a judge said at a criminal court in Bangkok on Thursday.
Before the verdict was read out, Gordon told reporters: “I’m not Thai, I’m American. I was just born in Thailand. I hold an American passport. In Thailand there are many laws that don’t allow you to express opinions but we don’t have that in America.”
He was arrested in May when he visited Thailand for medical treatment.
He initially denied the charges, but said he changed his plea to guilty after being repeatedly refused bail.
Tough lese-majeste law
The US has expressed concern over the use of Thailand’s lese-majeste law.
US officials have repeatedly urged the Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression, and said the decision to prosecute Gordon was disappointing.
Lerpong’s lawyer, Anon Nampa, said there would be no appeal against the verdict. “One month from now, we’ll submit a request for a royal pardon,” he added.
Other foreigners who have fallen foul of the lese-majeste law in recent years have tended to spend a short period in jail
before being pardoned. Thais have not got off so lightly, one recently getting 20 years for text messages deemed offensive.
Thailand has the world’s toughest laws protecting its monarch against defamation. The number of lese-majeste cases, especially those lodged by the military, has jumped in recent years, coinciding with a period of political turbulence in the country.
Critics say the law is being abused to discredit activists and politicians.
The generals who overthrew former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 cited his alleged disrespect for the monarchy among other reasons.
King Bhumibol, 84, is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and is revered as semi-divine by many Thais.