APNewsBreak: US man pleads guilty to royal insult
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 punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
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, particularly since a 2006 military coup.
"I'm not fighting in the case. I'm pleading guilty, sirs," Gordon told three judges at a Bangkok criminal court. The 55-year-old spoke while standing with handcuffs and ankle shackles.
Judges said that a verdict and sentence would be issued in the case Nov. 9.
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. "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.
American officials were present at Monday's hearing, U.S. Embassy spokesman Walter M. Braunohler said.
"We will also continue to raise his case with Thai authorities, stressing at every possible opportunity his rights as an American citizen," Braunohler said. "We urge Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression is respected."
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 cases involving the monarchy. 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.
Gordon was arrested by Thai authorities in May in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.
His primary crime appears to have been that he translated excerpts from unauthorized biography "The King Never Smiles" into the Thai language and published them on a blog. He also provided links to the translation to other two web forums, prosecutors say.
The book is banned in Thailand. In it, author Paul M. Handley retraces the king's life, alleging that Bhumibol has been a major stumbling block to the progress of democracy in Thailand as he consolidated royal power over his long reign.
The accused, Joe Gordon, has been under custody since May for his part in translating and distributing a banned biography of the King. He has plead guilty in hopes the King might give him leniency on account of his citizenship status.
In Thai society insults towards the king are taken seriously, both among the populace (for the most part) and the government itself. Similar things exist in Saudi Arabia and some other gulf states.
Wanna go Double Dutch?
9th December 2003
Indeed people can find themselves in quite some trouble if they are accused of dishouring the royal family. The reasons from this sometimes seem 'legit' but politcal gain is also a possibility in some occasions.
This undying (demand for) respect for the royal family is quite recent though. Untill WW2 the family wasn't that popular and public awarness was quite low. Their were regular struggles for power including coups. I do not recall the details but then some new president (ex army general) sought a way to secure his position. He achieved this by seeking something that could unit the Thai, a national symbol. The royal family was promoted, and made into a symbol of Thai unity. As came laws that disrespectingt he royal family would have severe consequences. WW2 had ended, the new king quickly ended up dead, wether it was of natural courses or murder isn't entirely clear. His brother took over, and this king (Bhumibol / pronounced "Phumiphon") is the longest sitting king today and still reigns today. He is quite popular by the people. but his health has become quite instable. He hasn't made many public appareances lately. His son and succesor seems a lot less popular.
That the current king is quite popular I can tell from personal experience, questioning him or his institution gets quite an agrassive (vocal) response. Even if I point out that I absolutely do not disrespect the royal family. It's simply a very sensitive subject.