American arrested in Thailand for posting link on blog [UPDATED]
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American arrested in Thailand for posting link on blog [UPDATED]

As the story has broken more information has suggested that there is more to this case than the initial headline that an American citizen has been detained for posting a link on his blog – see updates below.

Additionally further discussion is made at the New Mandela website from Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a leading Thai academic himself recently charged with lese majeste..

Much is being said right now on Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law which forbids critical comments about the country’s royal family.

A recent FCCT event saw the topic discussed by a number of academics and human rights figures (read an overview at Siam Voices here) while fellow AC blogger Bangkok Pundit has covered in depth of late. Lese majeste is a major talking point for Twitter users in the country. And that is just scratching the surface.

Prolific Thailand-based blogger Richard Barrow has uncovered details of a worrying new arrest which has seen a Thai-born American man (who has since been named as Lerpong Wichaikhammat) detained for posting the link to a book (which violates lese majeste) on his blog… back in 2007.

So either the powers that be have an active list of those who have ever posted a law-breaking link or (as seems more likely given the confusing structure within the organisation) they came across it by chance and acted on it immediately. Of course, a lese majeste charge can be filed by any Thai citizen so there is also the possibility that the man was reported by someone who knew or had visited his blog – details remain unclear at this time.

Richard, who discovered the news via Thai politics news site Prachatai, has more details and a fuller explanation (and warning) on lese majeste on his blog.

I’ve excerpted more details of the American man and his case below (emphasis mine):

Now comes the news that an American citizen has just been arrested for linking to a pdf download of a banned book about the Thai King. We don’t know many details yet as the Thai media are not allowed to discuss lese majeste cases in detail. However, from Prachatai I have managed to get the followed information:

Apparently the DSI brought Joe (not his real name) to the Ratchada Criminal Court on 26th May 2011 with the charges of lese majeste and the Computer Crime act. Joe is a 54 year old resident of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. He is Thai by birth but has lived in Colarado, America for 30 years. He recently returned to Thailand for medical treatment.

The blog in question dates back to 2007 where he allegedly put a link to a download of a banned book, “The King Never Smiles”. Joe denies doing this and has requested help form the American Embassy. He was denied bail and now resides in jail at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

So, I cannot emphasise enough, if you are a blogger or forum administrator based in Thailand or go to Thailand for your holidays, be careful what you write, or allow to be written on your blogs and forums. You could end up in a Thai prison if you don’t practice self-censorship. Don’t say that you weren’t warned.

With the recent focus on lese majeste and the growth in voices – both foreign and Thai – questioning how the law is being applied, this detainment highlights the absurdity of the law as well as the real danger, as Richard points out, that anyone publishing any kind of content online could face.

Though I’ve disputed it in the past, this incident makes censorship Thailand easily comparable to China where a woman was sentenced to one year in a labour camp (without trial) for retweeting a “re-education through labour” joke originally posted by her fiance, as Business Insider explains in full.

Unlike the Chinese woman, who received a ridiculously excessive ‘punishment’, the man detained in Thailand, who is being referred to as Joe, has no idea how long he will be detained or what is fate may be.

For more details visit Richard Barrow’s blog post or the Prachatai article (in Thai) here.

UPDATE: at this stage, as the details are dependent on one source alone, it isn’t entirely clear whether the man detained is American or was simply a long time resident in the USA. However Prachatai does state that he is Thai born and only in the country on a temporary basis, for medical treatment. I will post updates as and when more details are forthcoming, assuming that the story is picked up by English language media.

UPDATE 2: More details have emerged from AFP who confirm that the man’s name as Lerpong Wichaikhammat, a Thai-born American citizen, while the article indicates the allegations include translating lese majeste breaching information into English.

Thai-born , 54, was arrested on Tuesday in Nakhon Ratchasima province in northeast Thailand and is currently being held at Bangkok Remand Prison.

“He translated articles which are deemed insulting to the monarchy and posted them on his blog. Also he provided a link to a book” perceived as critical of the royal family, said police Lieutenant Colonel Kovit Tardmee.

“He left Thailand when he was 35 and returned for medical treatment in November 2009. He is scheduled to go back to the US this December.”

Does this mean that the US government/US Embassy will step in to assist him? Their involvement remains unclear from the AFP article:

The US embassy said it was providing consular assistance to the man.

“We can confirm that he is an American citizen,” a spokesman told AFP.

H/t to Richard Barrow, again, for flagging the AFP article.

There is also coverage of the arrest on AP which provides additional information on how the US Embassy is providing support.

A U.S. consular officer visited the American on Friday morning, said Walter M. Braunohler, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Bangkok.

Braunohler gave no other details and did not identify the man, saying only that “we’re still looking into what the exact charges are.”]

UPDATE 3: As the story has broken more information has suggested that there is more to this case than the initial headline that an American citizen has been detained for posting a link on his blog – see updates below for more

The American in question, Thai-born Lerpong Wichaikhammat, is a naturalised citizen having lived in the country for 20 years, not that his background should make a difference. Though he did post a link to controversial book The King Never Smiles – which critises the Thai Royal Family – he also translated the text into Thai and posted the content to his blog.

While both acts violate Thailand’s lese majeste laws, which forbid criticism of the country’s royal family, clearly there is a difference in intention between posting a link and translating text. That isn’t to say that I personally believe he should be tried (I don’t, neither do I support the LM law) but his intention to break law, as opposed to doing so but accident, is a far different scenario than originally reported.

It will be interesting to see how this case develops and whether a larger discussions around the law and its international implications emerges, given that the content was posted in the US not Thailand and it directly involves a US citizen. Indeed this case could have the support to put further pressure on dissolving the law but, like every case, it could help those supporting it strengthen their case – we shall see.