US citizen jailed for Thai royal insult

2011-12-08 09:02
Bangkok - A court in Thailand on Thursday jailed a Thai-born American for two-and-a-half years for defaming the monarchy - a sentence that the US criticised as "severe".

The conviction of Joe Wichai Commart Gordon - who appeared in court in shackles - is the latest in a series of cases under the kingdom's strict lèse-majesté laws, which rights campaigners say are used to stifle free speech.

The Criminal Court sentenced Gordon to five years in prison, but halved the term as the car salesman from Colorado pleaded guilty to publishing online a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej that he translated into Thai.

"Joe decided not to appeal this case but will ask for a royal pardon," his lawyer Arnon Nampa told reporters.

"In this case the court gave the lightest jail term for a lèse-majesté case. He's been in prison six months already. The worst case is two more years in jail but I hope that he'll receive a royal pardon."

Gordon, 55, was arrested in May on a visit to the kingdom and accused of posting the material deemed offensive while living in the US.

Under Thailand's lèse-majesté legislation, anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

A US official said Gordon should not have been jailed at all.

"We consider the sentence severe because he was given the sentence for his right of expression," US Consul General Elizabeth Pratt told reporters.

"We continue to respect the Thai monarchy but we also support the right of expression which is internationally recognised as a human right."
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