Thai authorities said Friday they arrested an American citizen on charges he insulted the country’s monarchy by posting a link on his blog four years ago to a banned book about the Southeast Asian nation’s ailing king.
The 54-year-old man has denied the charges, which also include inciting public unrest and violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, according to the Thai-language prachatai.com news website, which tracks cases of lese majeste, as the crime of insulting the monarch is known.
The Thai-born man lived in the U.S. state of Colorado for around 30 years before returning recently to Thailand for medical treatment, the website said.
Walter M. Braunohler, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Bangkok , identified the man as Joe Gordon. A court official, who declined to be named because she is not authorized to speak to the media, gave the man’s Thai name as Lerpong Wichaikhammat.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI, said the American was arrested Thursday in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. Speaking on customary condition of anonymity, she said he was being held in a Bangkok prison after a Thai court denied his request for bail.
The American had posted a link on his blog in 2007 to “The King Never Smiles,” an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej that is banned in Thailand, the DSI official said.
Praachatai.com said police arrested the man at his home and seized a computer and cell phone.
Braunohler said a U.S. consular officer visited the American on Friday morning.
He declined comment further, saying only that officials were following the case “very closely.”
“We’re still looking into what the exact charges are,” Braunohler told The Associated Press.
BP: Since this, we have found out that the Thai authorities *allege* that he did more than just post a link. AFP:
“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.”
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI in the United States, said Thai-born Lerpong Wichaikhammat, 55, had translated an article deemed offensive to the monarchy and posted it on his blog.
He was also accused of providing a web link to a controversial biography by an American author of 83-year-old King Bhumibiol Adulyadej, a book banned in Thailand.
Lese-majeste, or insulting the monarchy, is a very serious offence in Thailand, where many people regard King Bhumibol as almost divine. Each offence is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The latest alleged offences also contravened the country’s Computer Crimes Act, the DSI said.
“He denied all charges and we are preparing the case to submit to the court for prosecution,” DSI Chief Tharit Pengdith told Reuters.
He has been charged by the DSI with lèse majesté, inciting unrest and disobedience of the law in public, and disseminating computer data which threatens national security.
The DSI considers that this is an important case, as it believes that he is ‘Nai Sin Sae Jiew (นายสิน แซ่จิ้ว)’, the owner of a blog, which was created in the USA in 2007 and has a link to download the banned book The King Never Smiles.
Gordon denied all charges and contacted the US Embassy.
His friends brought a land title deed worth over 1.7 million baht to place as a bail guarantee, but, in response to objections from the DSI, the court denied bail, citing that this was a serious case concerning national security, and that the accused might tamper with evidence.
BP: Something has been lost in translation here because if one looks online – given that linking to a site that contains lese majeste material appears to *also* be a crime no link can be provided – but that นายสิน แซ่จิ้ว is the name (pen name??) [UPDATE: A site which นายสิน แซ่จิ้ว appears to be involved with lists นายสิน แซ่จิ้ว as a pen name] the translator, or one of the translators, of The King Never Smiles. Some comments:
1. If the blog was created in 2007 and the translation completed in 2007 and he only recently returned to Thailand, this would mean he was in the United States at the time. However, a person does not have to be within the country’s physical border for a country’s law to apply to them. If the court has been conferred jurisdiction by legislation, the law will apply to that person. A court’s jurisdiction can extend beyond its borders this is known as extraterritorial jurisdiction. The Thai Criminal Code has extra-territorial jurisdiction as specified in sections 7 and sections 8. Section 7 (1) provides that person who commits national security offences, sections 107-129, outside of the Kingdom can be prosecuted in the Kingdom. Lese majeste law is a national security offence. Section 8 further requires that an aggrieved person (more accurately a person who has suffered loss which for the purpose of lese majeste could be anyone) or the Thai government must request justice.
So hence if Joe was in the US at the time, the Thai authorities don’t care.
2. It is easy to imagine this story being picked up in the US given he is a US citizen – unsure whether he still retains Thai citizenship. He may face multiple *charges* of lese majeste beyond 15 years. If he denies the charges and pleads not guilty, then it could be a very messy trial if the trial is held in camera (i.e in secret). How will US Senators, other lawmakers, opinion-makers, and others respond?* This has the makings of being the most high profile lese majeste arrest given the citizenship of the the person arrested and particularly if he pleads not guilty.
*Or will it be a non-story?