Joe Gordon–Wrath of the King

This story from the Toronto Star should alarm free speakers everywhere, especially those who publish books, blogs, tweets and various utterances that might displease the King. Joe Gordon, born Lerpong Wichaikhammat in Thailand, is doing time for offending His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej…

BANGKOK—An American who translated a banned biography of Thailand’s king and posted the content online while living in Colorado was sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison Thursday for defaming the country’s royal family.

Gordon posted links to the banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej several years ago while living in the U.S. state of Colorado, and his case has raised questions about the applicability of Thai law to acts committed by foreigners outside Thailand.

Speaking after the verdict, Gordon said, “I am an American citizen, and what happened was in America.”

The rise of the Internet in recent years has given Thai authorities many more targets to pursue. Last month, Information Minister Anudith Nakornthap said Facebook users who “share” or “like” content that insults the Thai monarchy are committing a crime. Anudith said Thai authorities asked Facebook to remove 86,000 pages between August and November because of alleged lese majeste content.

Gordon, a former car salesman, is accused of having translated excerpts from the unauthorized biography “The King Never Smiles,” published by Yale University Press, into the Thai language and publishing them in a blog. He also provided links to the translation to other two Web forums, prosecutors say.

In the banned book, author Paul M. Handley retraces the king’s life, alleging that he has been a major stumbling block to the progress of democracy in Thailand as he consolidated royal power over his long reign.

An American in prison in Thailand for publishing an internet translation of a Yale University Press book– you’d think that would get a rise out of the Free Internet people, but I had to go to the back pages of Google News to find more on this story– an indication that it’s not getting attention here. The following is from The Nation– not the venerable liberal magazine, but a Thai multimedia news site…

The Nation December 10, 2011 1:00 am
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s tweets are usually of a laid-back nature. But that wasn’t the case yesterday, when her special “chat” with tweeple landed her in the middle of Thailand’s hottest political topics.

She was asked about Thai-American lese majeste convict Joe Gordon, as well as about Article 112, Thaksin Shinawatra, and freedom of expression in Thailand in general. Credited with bringing a new approach to diplomacy, this time the ambassador had to rely on tried-and-trusted diplomatic answers to prevent the one-hour session from becoming too incendiary.

On Gordon, she said the US Embassy would continue to assist him in every possible way, including continually raising his case with Thai authorities. Asked for her opinions on Article 112, she replied that she had high respect for the Thai monarchy, but was “troubled by prosecutions inconsistent with international standards”. Thaksin’s future, she said, was up to Thailand to decide.

Well, that’s why they call them diplomats. Some among the Thai people are courageously taking a public stand for free speech. More from The Nation…

About 100 opponents of the lese-majeste law donned black clothes and held a vigil in front of the Criminal Court yesterday to demand the abolition of the law and freedom for prisoners of conscience, including 61-year-old Amphon Tangnoppakul, better known as Akong, the subject of a recent high-profile prosecution.

Protesters wore paper masks of Akong and many held torches, symbolising the death of justice in cases of freedom of expression regarding the institution of the monarchy.

Kwanravee Wangudom, coordinator of a campaign to raise awareness about Article 112 of the penal code, which concerns lese-majeste offences, said that from January to October this year, 122 lese-majeste cases came before the Court of First Instance, with eight pending in the Appeals Court and three with the Supreme Court.

Kwanravee was among the protesters who stood vigil for 112 minutes. She said the lese-majeste law blurred the line between defamation and honest criticism of the institution of the monarchy.

One striking difference in the political landscape of today is the presence of instant communication. Censors are fighting a losing battle when everyone with a cell phone may be the media, in color and in real time. Kings and Presidents take notice– the whole world is watching.

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One response

  1. So…I guess you’ve heard the one about Sam Brownback’s office searching social media for negative comments?, and the high school girl that was asked to apologize?

    Yeah, I wish it was a joke.
    Funny, Sammy did end up apologizing though. God bless the USA.

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