American jailed for defaming Thai king

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The Independent Online

An American was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a Thailand prison yesterday after he pleaded guilty to defaming the country's king in material he posted on the internet while living thousands of miles away in Colorado.

Joe Gordon was convicted of lese- majesty for translating excerpts of a biography of the monarch that is banned in Thailand. Lawyers for the 55-year-old Thai-born defendant said they hoped for a royal pardon.

"I am an American citizen, and what happened was in America," Mr Gordon, whose Thai name is Lerpong Wichaikhammat, told reporters after the case. The US consul general, Elizabeth Pratt, said the punishment was "severe because he has been sentenced for his right to freedom of expression".

The purported crime of Mr Gordon, who has lived in the US for 30 years, had been to upload pages of the 2006 book, The King Never Smiles, by Paul Handley, which he had translated into Thai. The book suggests 84-year-old King Bhumi-bol has been a stumbling block to democratic reforms.

Campaigners say his case again highlights the country's harsh defamation laws which are "routinely misused". Last month, a 61-year-old man, Amphon Tangnoppakul was sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending four text messages deemed to have defamed the monarchy.

The nation's anti-defamation laws, drawn up to protect the reputation of the monarchy, are among the most stringent in the world. Anyone found guilty faces up to 15 years in jail.

"The severity of penalties being meted out for lese-majesty offences in Thailand is shocking," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.