UPDATE: US Embassy:
The United States is disappointed by the prosecutor’s decision to file lese majeste charges against U.S. citizen Joe Gordon. We have discussed Mr. Gordon’s case extensively with Thai authorities, stressing at every possible opportunity his rights as an American citizen. We urge the Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression is respected and that Mr. Gordon, a U.S. citizen, receives fair treatment.
BP: Now, we wait and see how it progresses – although this will mostly be done behind closed doors – and then at what point as we move closer to a trial that this moves further up the food chain within the US government for them to express disappointment….
—Original post below —
The U.S. said Friday it is disappointed Thailand has charged an American citizen with insulting the country’s monarchy, a severe offense that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Joe Gordon allegedly translated parts of an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posted articles online that were deemed to have defamed the royal family.
Gordon was formally charged Thursday after being arrested in May and detained for the maximum 84 days that a suspect can be held without charge.
The American has denied the charges, according to the Thai-language prachatai.com news website, which tracks cases of lese majeste, as the crime of insulting the monarchy is known.
The 54-year-old Thai-born man lived in the U.S. state of Colorado for about 30 years before returning recently to Thailand, the website said.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lese majeste laws that mandate a jail term of three to 15 years for any person who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent.”
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kristin Kneedler said the U.S. has urged Thai authorities to respect freedom of expression and “was disappointed” with the charges against Gordon.
Embassy officials have had regular contact with Gordon, she said.
BP: Some comments:
A. Now, we have confirmation that Joe was not charged just over a link, but for translating part of TKNS per AP yesterday:
Lawyer Anon Numpa says his client, Joe Gordon, was charged with lese majeste for allegedly translating parts of an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and writing articles that defamed the royal family
From previous blog post then:
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.
BP: So is this a case of a extra-territorial application of lese majeste against a foreign national (yes, he is Thai too, but he is a US citizen and residing in the US in 2007)?
B. The US government statement of being disappointed sounds weak, but it is much stronger than previous US statements and in diplomat-speak it isn’t weak. As also per previous blog post:
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.
BP: Well, according to Prachatai, he has denied the charges (not sure that this a formal denial), but indeed this could get very messy although we are a few months away from a trial still.
Now, Yingluck is in government , what will she do? Yingluck has previously mentioned that the priority was to focus on economic problems and we are likely months away from a trial in Joe’s case – although Chiranuch’s trial is scheduled to recommence on September 1 (details of the case schedule can be found here) – but Yingluck could also come under pressure from the red shirts given Jatuporn has stated he will not use his parliamentary immunity in regards to lese majeste charges. Then, you have news reports that President Obama is likely to visit Thailand in November. One would imagine that the US would, at least, privately raise Thailand’s human rights record and given a US citizen has been charged this becomes directly relevant* then this could be on the agenda too…
*If Obama does visit, will he be granted an audience with HM the King?