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US citizen sentenced to prison for insulting Thailand royalty

Thai-born American citizen Joe Gordon (Thai name Lerpong Wichaikhammat) was sentenced Thursday to two-and-a-half years in a Thai prison after pleading guilty to violating Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code [text] by defaming the royal family by translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online. Gordon was arrested [Huffington Post report] this past May when visiting Thailand, several years after [AP report] posting the controversial blog in Colorado. Before Gordon's sentence was announced, he reiterated his American citizenship [Reuters report] and discredited the Thai judicial system. The Thai law states "whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." While Gordon's lawyer Arnon Nampa has stated he does not plan to appeal, Gordon will request royal pardon to excuse his sentence.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue [official website] recently condemned the law [JURIST report]. La Rue also condemned the country's 2007 Computer Crimes Act [unofficial text], which imposes a prison sentence of up to five years for any views expressed on the Internet in relation to the monarchy deemed to be a threat to national security. The act is used to further enforce the country's insult law, La Rue said, "[t]he threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression. ... This is exacerbated by the fact that the charges can be brought by private individuals and trials are often closed to the public." In 2009, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for a public trial [JURIST report] for a Thai political activist accused of lese majeste, or insulting the royal family. Judge Prommat Toosang ordered [Reuters report] that the trial of Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul [advocacy website] be closed for national security reasons. AI's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi noted that although the closure of trials is legitimate under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Thai Constitution, the government "will have a very difficult time explaining why the trial of someone charged with making an insulting remark could compromise Thailand's national security." Zafiri said that Prommat's guarantee of a fair trial was inadequate and "simply not verifiable" unless the trial is conducted in public.

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