December 9, 2011 by staff
American Thai, A U.S. citizen received a 30-month prison sentence in Thailand on Thursday for insulting the king, the latest punishment handed down under a law critics see as archaic, prompting the U.S. government to criticize the ruling as excessive and a violation of free speech.
The latest case under Thailand’s controversial lese majeste, or “injured majesty,” laws also involves issues of citizenship and jurisdiction. Thai-born Lerpong Wichaikhammat, 55, a U.S. resident for the last three decades, was convicted of posting a Thai translation of “The King Never Smiles,” an unofficial biography, several years ago while living in Colorado.
Lerpong, whose American name is Joe Gordon, was arrested during a visit to Thailand in May to seek treatment for arthritis and high blood pressure. He pleaded guilty in October. The Bangkok criminal court halved his original five-year term citing his confession.
“In Thailand they put people in jail without proof,” Lerpong said Thursday, his arms and legs shackled, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. “I was born in Thailand, but this does not mean I am Thai. I am proud to be an American citizen.”
Thailand has some of the world’s toughest lese majeste laws protecting its popular monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, 84 and immediate family. In recent years, the number of such cases has jumped and sentences made tougher. Critics and political scientists say the law is archaic, violates free expression and is being used during a period of political turbulence by people aligned with the ailing monarch to protect their interests.
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