This one comes to you from the “WTH Files” and Internet censorship in Thailand is the topic at hand…
If you’ve ever seen “Broke Down Palace” or are on team-Schapelle-Corby, then you know how easy it can be for unsuspecting westerners to find themselves in an unfamiliar (and often unforgiving) Thai prison. Traditionally, drugs are to blame when the unlucky land behind Bangkok bars; but this time around, a U.S.-based blogger, Joe Gordon, awakened the ire of the Thai government and is now doing hard time in Thailand.
Internet Censorship in Thailand: Joe Gordon, Defendant
Fifty-four years ago, Joe Gordon (Thai name: Lerpong Wichaicomma) was born in northeastern Thailand. But for about the past 30 years, Joe has been a legal resident of the United States.
This past May, when back in Thailand visiting his place of birth, Joe was arrested by Thai officials. Unlike many western adventurers who, when traveling, find themselves on the wrong side of Thai law, Mr. Gordon’s detainment didn’t deal with drugs or prostitution; instead he was essentially booked for defaming the Thai King on the Internet.
And believe you me, in Thailand, online lese-majeste offenses are taken seriously – so seriously that offenders can be locked up for five plus years!
Internet Censorship in Thailand: King Rama IX, Et Al., Offended Parties
What’s all this lese-majeste stuff about, you ask?
In 2008, lese-majeste (public criticism of a ruling monarchy) regulations were enthusiastically embraced by the Thai government, which invigorated the island nation’s Internet censorship efforts.
Currently, the Royal Thai Police, Communications Authority of Thailand, and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) all monitor online activity concerning pornography, Thai royals, and government officials. And while an official blocked IP-Address list is made available to the public, reports indicate that a list of criteria by which websites are judged is not as readily available.
Who is Thailand’s Lese-Majeste-Fighting Monarch?
Meet Bhumibol Adulyadej, aka “King Rama IX,” or simply “Lek” to his close friends and family.
Some interesting Jeopardy facts about King Bhumibol: he’s the world’s wealthiest monarch (with an impressive financial portfolio estimated at 30 billion), he’s been on the Thai throne since 1946 and he’s generally well-loved by his subjects. Interestingly enough, for the past two years, King Rama IX has been confined to a hospital bed – but his longstanding illness sure isn’t affecting his battle against alleged online defamation.
Internet Censorship in Thailand: Joe Gordon Trial and Verdict
What, exactly, was the Internet act that landed Joe Gordon in a steaming pile of defamation, you ask?
Gordon posted several excerpts from Paul M. Handley’s book, “The King Never Smiles” on the Internet. Handley’s manuscript is one which Thai censorship watchdogs deem critical of King Rama IX, and therefore posting translations of it on the Net is illegal in Thailand.
In any event, back to Gordon. Thai censorship workers made note of the online defamation infringement, and when Gordon traveled to Thailand for a visit this past May, cops were waiting to make an arrest.
At first, Gordon denied the charges. But after several months of protesting, the US-national plead guilty.
Arnon Nampa, Gordon’s lawyer, explained the decision matter-of-factly: “We all have to choose between the rule of law or freedom.” Nampa went on to explain that his client eventually realized that no matter what, fighting the case would have automatically landed him another year in jail without bail – and jail time is something Gordon is trying to reduce at all costs.
Internet Censorship Lawsuit Sentencing
Last Thursday, Gordon was sentenced to two years in jail. Presiding Thai judge, Tawan Rodcharoen, explained that if it hadn’t been for Gordon’s guilty plea, it would have been a five-year sentence.
Elizabeth Pratt, consul general of the U.S. Embassy, called the verdict “troubling” and voiced concern about the severity of the sentence. In a statement published by the NYT, Pratt was sure to mention her “full respect for the [Thai] monarchy,” before concluding that “freedom of expression,” is an “internationally recognized human right.”
According to the same article, Gordon has applied for a royal pardon, and as a result, can’t speak much about his Internet censorship lawsuit with reporters.
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