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Posted at 11:32 AM ET, 05/27/2011

American citizen charged with insulting Thai king: What is lèse-majesté?


A Thai " cyber scout,” recruited by the Thai justice ministry, patrols cyberspace in search of anybody violating the kingdom's strict lèse majesté rules. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Most Westerners take for granted their ability to air a grievance on the Internet about a politician or other person in power. This is not the case in Thailand.

An American citizen, identified as Joe Gordon, was arrested Friday on charges that he insulted the Thai monarchy, the Associated Press reported. How? By posting a link to a banned biography about the king on his blog four years ago.

The 54-year-old Thai native, who lived in Colorado for 30 years before returning to Thailand, violated a law called lèse-majesté, an offense in which a person “defames, insults or threatens” the king, queen or heir-apparent. It is punishable by three to 15 years in jail. Gordon, who was also charged with violating the country’s Computer Crimes Act , was denied bail, according to Prachatai.com.

The number of lèse-majesté cases has increased by an estimated 1,500 percent since 2005, the AP reports. The failing health of 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been cited as a reason for the crackdown. The Thai justice ministry has recruited “cyber scouts” to patrol the Internet, searching for offenders. “Sometimes there are just fun conversations among teenagers, and they think it’s not important,” one volunteer told the AFP. “But for those who love the royal institute, some comments that I see are not appropriate. I must report them to the authorities.”

Wipas Raksakulthai, who reportedly sympathizes with the anti-government “Red Shirt” movement, was arrested in April and accused of insulting the monarchy on his Facebook page. The Nation reported that the 37-year-old, who was named a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, was out on bail, but they could not verify the information. Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history professor at a Bangkok university who researches the monarchy, was arrested in May on similar charges.

In March, Thanthawut Taweewarodomkul was sentenced to 13 years in jail on charges of lèse-majesté and violating the Computer Crime Act. The 38-year-old was the administrator of a Web site affiliated with the Red Shirts.

In 2009, Australian writer Harry Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in prison after a passage from his self-published novel, “Verisimilitude. Is the truth, the truth?” was deemed offensive. The novel sold seven copies. He was pardoned after spending six months in a Thai prison.

By  |  11:32 AM ET, 05/27/2011

 
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