BANGKOK (AP) — Hoping for a lenient sentence, a shackled U.S. citizen pleaded guilty Monday to charges of defaming Thailand’s royal family, a grave crime in this Southeast Asian kingdom that is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
Judges said that a verdict and sentence would be issued in the case Nov. 9.
Thai-born American Joe Gordon has been detained since late May for translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online. Gordon committed the alleged crimes years ago while living in the U.S. state of Colorado, where he worked as a car salesman. The case has raised concerns about the reach of Thai law and how it is applied to both Thai nationals and foreign visitors.
Thailand has the most severe lese majeste laws in the world, and critics say they have been increasingly abused by political rivals to harass opponents.
“I’m not fighting in the case. I’m pleading guilty, sirs,” Gordon, 55, told three judges at a Bangkok criminal court, standing with handcuffs and ankle shackles.
Defense lawyer Arnon Nampa told The Associated Press earlier that Gordon had decided last week to plead guilty after being denied bail eight times.
“The fact that his bail requests have been repeatedly denied — that disheartened him and made him want to plead guilty,” Arnon said before Monday’s hearing began. “He said he wanted the penalty to be lessened and intended to ask for the royal pardon.”
Royal pardons are granted to prisoners by the Thai king on special occasions, such as his birthday or the anniversary of his ascension to the throne.
Gordon has previously denied the charges against him, according to the independent Thai-language prachatai.com news website, which has interviewed him in prison.
Speaking briefly to reporters as he was being escorted into the courtroom, Gordon said pleading innocent was futile. “How can I fight?” he said, adding that the trial is “not fair.”
“I want the American government to help me because this is about freedom of expression,” he said.
American diplomats have pressed Thai authorities unsuccessfully to drop the case, arguing in part that it could damage the country’s tourism image and deter some from visiting. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok registered its public disappointment in the case in August, when prosecutors officially filed charges against Gordon.
Many had hoped that the nascent administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, some of whose top supporters have been accused of lese majeste, would re-examine such harsh sentences for lese majeste cases. The issue remains highly sensitive, however, and Yingluck’s government has been just as aggressive in pursing the cases as its predecessors.
Gordon reportedly lived in the U.S. for about 30 years before returning to Thailand last March for medical treatment. Arnon said Gordon wished to return to Colorado.
He was arrested by Thai authorities in May in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.
Gordon’s primary crime appears to be translating excerpts from the locally banned, unauthorized biography “The King Never Smiles” into the Thai language and publishing them on an online blog. He also provided links to the translation to other two web forums, prosecutors say.