Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Man jailed for Thai monarchy 'slur'

American Joe Gordon has been jailed for defaming the Thai royal family

An American man who translated a banned biography of Thailand's king and posted the content online has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a Thai prison for defaming the country's royal family.

The verdict is the latest so-called lese majeste punishment handed down in Thailand, which has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad to reform harsh legislation that critics say is an affront to freedom of expression.

Thai-born American Joe Gordon, 55, stood calmly with his ankles shackled in an orange prison uniform as the sentence was read out at a Bangkok criminal court.

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

The sentence was relatively light compared to other recent cases. In November, 61-year-old Amphon Tangnoppakul was sentenced to 20 years in jail 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 US 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." He said: "This is just the system in Thailand." Speaking later in Thai, he added: "In Thailand, they put people in prison even if they don't have proof."

Gordon had lived in the US 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 the hope of obtaining a lenient sentence.

The US Embassy's consul general, Elizabeth Pratt, said in Bangkok after the ruling that Washington considered Gordon's punishment "severe because he has been sentenced for his right to freedom of expression".

Asked if he would stay in Thailand after serving his time, Gordon said: "I would like to stay and see some positive Thailand. I want to see the real, amazing Thailand, not the messy Thailand."

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