07:18 PM Dec 08, 2011BANGKOK – A court in Thailand sentenced a US citizen to two and a half years in prison today for defaming the country’s royal family, by translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of the king and posting them online.
The verdict is the latest so-called lese majeste punishment handed down in the South-east Asian kingdom, which has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad to reform harsh legislation that critics say is an affront to freedom of expression.
The 55-year-old Thai-born American, Joe Mr Gordon, stood calmly with his ankles shackled in an orange prison uniform as the sentence was read out at a Bangkok criminal court.
Judge Tawan Rodcharoen said the punishment, initially set at five years, was reduced because Mr Gordon pleaded guilty in October. Defence lawyer Arnon Nampa said Mr Gordon would not appeal, but would apply for a royal pardon.
The sentence was relatively light compared to other recent cases. In November, 61-year-old Amphon Tangnoppakul was sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending four text messages deemed offensive to the crown.
Mr Gordon posted links the to banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej several years ago while living in the US state of Colorado, and his case has raised questions about the applicability of Thai law to acts committed by foreigners outside Thailand.
Speaking after the verdict, Mr Gordon said: “I am an American citizen, and what happened was in America.”
He also said he had no expectation of being let off easy. “This is just the system in Thailand,” he said. Speaking later in Thai, he added: “In Thailand, they put people in prison even if they don’t have proof.”
Mr Gordon had lived in the US for about 30 years. He was detained in late May during a visit to his native country to seek treatment for arthritis and high blood pressure. After being repeatedly denied bail, he pleaded guilty in October in hopes of obtaining a lenient sentence.
Mr Gordon, a former car salesman, is accused of having translated excerpts from the unauthorised biography “The King Never Smiles”, published by Yale University Press, into the Thai language and publishing them in a blog.
He also provided links to the translation to other two Web forums, prosecutors say.
In the banned book, American author Paul Handley retraces the king’s life, alleging that he has been a major stumbling block to the progress of democracy in Thailand as he consolidated royal power over his long reign.
King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, is profoundly revered in Thailand and is widely seen as a stabilising force. He was feted on Monday on his 84th birthday, during which he called on his countrymen to unite in response to the worst floods in more than half a century.
The king is frail and has stayed at a Bangkok hospital for more than two years.
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