U.S. citizen sentenced for insulting Thai king
New York Times
Posted: 12/08/2011 09:02:01 PM PST
Updated: 12/08/2011 09:26:34 PM PST
BANGKOK -- A Thai court on Thursday sentenced a U.S. citizen to two and a half years in prison for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the latest case in the government's crackdown on criticism of the monarchy.
Joe Gordon, who was born in Thailand but has lived in the United States for the past three decades, was convicted of translating and posting to the Internet portions of a book, "The King Never Smiles," which is published by Yale University Press and banned in Thailand.
The number of so-called lese-majeste cases has sharply increased in Thailand in recent years, a period of political turmoil and divisions about the future of the monarchy.
Gordon's case is unusual because he was living in the United States when he uploaded chapters of the book onto the Internet.
Elizabeth Pratt, the consul general of the U.S. Embassy who attended the sentencing, said that the United States was "troubled" with the verdict, but she stopped short of calling for Gordon to be freed.
"We are very concerned about the severity of the sentence that has been imposed on Joe Gordon," she said. "We continue to have full respect for the Thai monarchy, and we also want to support the right to freedom of expression, which is an internationally recognized human right."
Gordon, 54, initially denied the charges but in October pleaded guilty.
He will request a royal pardon, said his lawyer, Arnon Nampa.
The sentence would have been more harsh
had Gordon pleaded not guilty, Arnon said. Before the sentencing, Gordon was repeatedly denied bail.
"You have to choose between the rule of law or freedom," Arnon said in an interview after the verdict was handed down. "Because if he had wanted to continue fighting the case, he would have been in jail for at least another year without bail."
Judge Tawan Rodcharoen said the court had shown leniency because Gordon pleaded guilty.
The sentence, which would have been five years, was cut in half, the judge said.
Gordon, whose Thai name is Lerpong Wichaicommart, was arrested in May during a visit to his hometown in northeastern Thailand.
Wearing an orange prison uniform and shackled with leg irons, he hesitated Thursday when answering reporters' questions.
"In Thailand, they put people in prison even if they don't have proof," he said. "I am not going to fight. I don't believe" -- he stopped himself.
A prison official sitting next to Gordon whispered to him in Thai.
"Don't say anything else about this," said the prison official, Wiroj Nuyom. "It might affect your royal pardon. And you might be in trouble."
"The King Never Smiles," written by a journalist, Paul M. Handley, is a detailed biography of King Bhumibol. The book argues that the king has led a restoration of royal power in Thailand that has impeded the development of democracy.
The king, who has been hospitalized for more than two years with various ailments, marked his 84th birthday Monday in a gilded ceremony marked by fanfare and adulation.
After more than six decades on the throne, many Thais have an unquestioning loyalty toward the king.
Ardent supporters of the monarchy have led an online campaign to stamp out criticism, an effort that has been accompanied by a crackdown on royal insults by government Internet censors.
"If you don't like His Majesty the King, I would suggest this -- get out of here," one YouTube user, LimitedSaur, said in a video. "You'd better live somewhere else but Thailand."