American arrested in Thailand, accused of criticizing monarchy

On May 26, Thai authorities arrested Lerpong Wichaikhammat in his home, after accusing him of criticizing the country’s monarchy.  He was denied bail, charged with “inciting public unrest” and violating Thailand’s “Computer Crimes Act.” Wichaikhammat posted a link several years ago with a banned book about Thailand’s king, Bhumibiol Adulyadej, on his blog.  Authorities also claim he translated an authorized biography of the king into English, and wrote defamatory articles about the king. Wichaikhammat is a Thai native and American citizen, who was living under the alias “Joe Gordon” in Colorado for the last thirty years before recently returning to country.
Fines and imprisonment for defamation and criticism of the government are common in Thailand, used as a mean to silence government critics.  “Lese majeste” cases—cases of defamation against the monarchy—have significantly increased with hundreds of cases addressed by the courts each year. Enforced by the Defense Ministry and Ministry of Information and Communication Technology they prohibit the defamation of the monarchy. The Computer Crime Act was enacted in 2007 to address hacking, online offenses and to prevent the circulation of materials “detrimental” to national security—with a penalty of five years in prison, or a several thousand dollar fine.Authorities have used the laws to target activists, scholars, students journalists, authors and politicians, and sentence them to decades in prison on multiple charges. In March 2011, Thanthawut Taweewarodomkul, who was involved in an anti-government movement and operated an anti-government website, was sentenced to 16 years on charges of defaming the monarchy and violating the Computer Crime Act.

Freedom House calls on Thailand’s government to release Gordon, and insists that Thailand implement a policy that allows its citizens to openly engage in a dialogue about the government without fear of punishment.

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