U.S. Man Jailed Over Book Critical of Thai King Granted Pardon

A U.S. citizen sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison for translating a banned book about King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting it on a website was freed after being granted a royal pardon, the U.S. embassy said.

“Joe Gordon was granted the pardon and was released yesterday,” Walter Braunohler, the embassy’s spokesman, said today by phone.

Joe Wichai Commart Gordon, who was born in Thailand, pleaded guilty on Oct. 10 to using a pen name to translate “The King Never Smiles,” a 2006 biography by Paul M. Handley published by Yale University Press. The Criminal Court sentenced Gordon to five years in prison in December over the book, which is banned in Thailand, and reduced the penalty because of his guilty plea.

Gordon’s conviction was among several last year that prompted the United Nations human rights office to call for changes to the law, in part because it has a “chilling effect” on free speech. A Thai group submitted a bill to Parliament in May to amend the law with 30,000 signatures from members of the public, reflecting growing opposition to the statute even as political parties decline to endorse changes.

Thailand’s lese-majeste law, which falls under Article 112 of the criminal code, mandates jail sentences as long as 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.”

Book’s Description

The book counters “the widely accepted image of the king as egalitarian and virtuous,” according to a description on Amazon.com.

King Bhumibol, 84, assumed the throne in 1946 and serves as head of state. His only son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, 59, has fought off publicity about his personal life.

The number of royal insult cases before the lower courts increased to 478 in 2010 from 33 in 2005, a year before the coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to statistics compiled by the Article 112 campaign committee. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, took power in August last year after her party won a majority in elections.

Thailand’s government defended the lese-majeste law after Gordon’s conviction last year, saying in a statement that he had a fair trial. The law is targeted at “those who abuse their rights by spreading hate speech or distorted information to incite violence and hatred among Thais as well as towards the monarchical institution” and “is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” the government said in the statement.

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