US citizen Joe Gordon sentenced under Thailand’s Lese Majeste laws

The sentencing on December 8 of Thai-born American citizen, Lerpong Wichaikhammat, “Joe Gordon”, to two-and -a-half years in prison for defaming the monarchy is a clear violation of freedom of expression and a worrisome indicator of the Thai government is neglecting its human rights agenda.  Thailand must implement a policy that allows its citizens to openly engage in a dialogue about the government without fear of punishment. Wichaikhammat is a Thai native who lived under the alias “Joe Gordon” in Colorado for thirty years before returning to the country. He was arrested on May 24 at his Thai residence, accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code (Lese Majeste) and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA) – and has been detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.  Mr. Gordon was accused of posting a link on his blog to a Thai translation of the book The King Never Smiles, deemed critical of the Thai monarchy, while living in the U.S.; authorities also accused Gordon of translating an unauthorized biography of King Bhumiboil Adulyadej into English. Lese Majeste criminalizes defamation of the King, Queen, Crown Prince, and the Crown Princess. The CCA addresses hacking, online offenses and “prevents the circulation of materials detrimental to national security.” After Gordon’s bail requests were denied eight times, he decided to plead guilty in October 2011, allegedly out of desperation.

In recent years, laws have been used to curtail online and offline political expression. Fines and imprisonment for defamation and criticism of the government are common in Thailand, used as a means to silence government critics.  The number of Lese Majeste cases jumped from an average of five cases per year between 1990 and 2004 to 164 cases in 2009.  In 2010, 31 of the 185 people charged under the CCA also faced the Lese Majeste charges. 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 CCA.

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