Thailand’s social media users face harsh penalties
In what could be chapters taken right out of a Ray Bradbury novel, Thai authorities have convicted an American, Joe Gordon, for posting online selections from a banned book. He is not the only target of Thailand’s tough, no-nonsense social media policy.
The crackdown on particular social media users is the latest effort to curb Internet activity that officials say is defamatory to the country’s monarchy.
Coloradoan Joe Gordon will be spending time in a Thai jail cell because he committed a crime against the Kingdom’s reigning sovereign, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Associated Press piece, “American sentenced to prison for Thai royal insult,” published December 8, 2011, explains the 55-year-old Gordon’s offense:
“BANGKOK (AP) — An American who translated a banned biography of Thailand’s king and posted the content online while living in Colorado was sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison Thursday for defaming the country’s royal family.”
The unauthorized book about the 87-year old Thai ruler is Paul M. Handley’s, “The King Never Smiles,” by Yale University Press.
Royal reputation protected by law
Under the Thai legal system, anyone who insults the King or his family is subject to the nation’s lese majeste laws which deal specifically with transgressions deemed derogatory to the monarchy, including postings on such social media sites as Facebook and Twitter. If convicted, crimes usually carry a term of three to 20 years.
About Gordon’s punishment, the AP reports, “The sentence was relatively light compared to other recent cases.”
After translating segments of Handley’s text, Gordon, who was born in Thailand and is a U.S. citizen, downloaded it while living in Colorado. He was detained by Thai officials in May 2011, while visiting friends and relatives. What does the American government think of Gordon’s misdeed?
According to the AP, a State Department spokesperson stated, “We are very troubled by the outcome of this case. We have conveyed our views to the Thai authorities.”
Thai citizen Amphon Tangnoppakul was handed a 20 year prison stretch in November 2011 for sending what were considered offensive text messages to the queen. He did it four times.
During the same month, it was reported, Information Minister Anudith Nakornthap declared, “Facebook users who ‘share’ or ‘like’ content that insults the Thai monarchy are committing a crime.”
Similar AP sources point out Minister Nakornthap then requested Facebook to remove thousands of domestic subscriber pages because they contained prohibited material under lese majeste.
In 2007, Thailand instituted the Computer Crime Act which has bolstered the powers of lese majeste.
The advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, had one word for the latest Thai justice: “Shocking.”
There’s been no sign from Thai representatives about Gordon and Tangnoppakul being eligible for early release based on good behavior. It’s unknown if they’ll have Internet privileges.