American Jailed in Thailand over Blog Posting

Via the AP:  Thailand arrests American for alleged king insult

The 54-year-old Thai-born man lived in the U.S. state of Colorado for around 30 years before returning recently to Thailand for treatment for high blood pressure and gout, the website said. If the allegations are true, the infractions would have been committed while he lived in America — where they are legal — raising concern about the reach of Thai law and how it is applied to Thai nationals and foreign visitors.

Tharit said the man’s Thai name was Lerpong Wichaikhammat. Walter M. Braunohler, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Bangkok, identified the American as Joe Gordon and said a consular officer visited him on Friday morning. He declined comment further, saying only that officials were following the case "very closely.

The charges stem from posts on  blog that the King apparently didn’t like:

Thai authorities said Friday they arrested an American citizen on charges he insulted the country’s monarchy, in part by posting a link on his blog four years ago to a banned book about the Southeast Asian nation’s ailing king.

The man is also suspected of translating, from English into Thai, portions of "The King Never Smiles" — an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej — and posting them online along with articles he wrote that allegedly defame the royal family, said Tharit Pengdith, who heads the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI.

It raises an interesting question as to why the Thai government would be willing to create an international incident with the US over some blog posts, not to mention the question of how Thai law could have jurisdiction (but then again, the internet is tricky that way).

This is also something quite foreign to Americans who not only actively insult their leadership on a constant basis, but often relish the opportunity.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. This is also something quite foreign to Americans who not only actively insult their leadership on a constant basis, but often relish the opportunity.

    Indeed, despite never having given the Thai king much thought until this news story came up, I suddenly find myself siezed by a sudden desire to subject him to all manner of verbal abuse of the most crude and graphic nature.

  2. Tano says:

    The Thai king is, in theory, totally apolitical, and considered to be way above politics or any other aspect of normal human lie. He is seen as the embodiment of the country Insulting the King is somewhat akin to burning the flag while pissing on a cross. There are quite a few people in this country that go ballistic over stuff like that…

  3. Southern Hooser says:

    There are quite a few people in this country that go ballistic over stuff like that…

    But it is still not a crime

  4. DC Loser says:

    This all would be moot if Mr. Wichaikhammat didn’t return to Thailand. As an ethnic Thai, he should fully know that slandering the King is serious business, along with the consequences. I remember all those Americans who were happy when that kid got caned in Singapore for breaking their laws. This is the same. First Amendment rights don’t extend past our borders.

  5. ratufa says:

    Anyone who is familiar with Thailand knows that lese majeste is not something that the Thais take lightly. Of course, people should be able to say what they want if they are in the US, but he was arrested in Thailand and it’s their country (not that I’m approving of the arrest).

    If you think the Thais had no right to arrest him for doing something in the US, consider what would happen to Julian Assange if he visited America. Or consider cases where someone from another country violates the DMCA and gets arrested when they visit the US. That we may do this too doesn’t make it right, of course.

  6. Ben says:

    That’s funny, I seem to recall a few times before when the US government has claimed the power to punish americans for crimes they committed out of the country, even if what they do is legal in the country where you committed them. So what’s the difference here?

  7. Jay Tea says:

    More specifically, Ben, I believe we’ve prosecuted a few “sex tourists” who’ve gone to places like Thailand to commit sex acts that are illegal here — usually involving children. Also, possibly, some “drug tourists,” but the sex tourists come to mind more readily.

    My gut says this is precisely the kind of thing we OUGHT to raise a stink about — this guy didn’t break any Thai laws on Thai territory, but exercised his rights as an American on American soil, and we should get real pissy about Thailand imposing its laws on our citizens for things they did on our turf. But damn, that’s a real awkward precedent… could the citizenship question be the determining factor?

    Awkwardly, I’m thinking this through while writing, so I’m not making a clear position seen here. Which is appropriate, as I don’t have one.

    I think I’ll settle on saying yeah, citizenship is the key determining factor here. Which means that if this guy (I am NOT typing that name out, not even cutting and pasting it) has dual citizenship, it suddenly gets a lot grayer…

    J.

  8. Tano says:

    It often happens in cases like this, that the arrested person (especially if a foreigner) is prosecuted, convicted, and then the King steps in and grants clemency – further demonstrating how above it all he is.

  9. Yet another disillusioned pawn says:

    “[B]ut exercised his rights as an American on American soil.” Not exactly correct, where he exercised his rights as an American was on the internet. I really don’t know whether he should be able to be charged, but since the internet is not an exclusively proprietary domain of the United States–even if Al Gore claims partial credit for creating it, and no matter what “murkans” might believe about it–the question of whether he can be tried makes an interesting point of international law. Since the Thais currently have him in custody, the point goes to them at the moment.

  10. Ben says:

    Jay –

    Yes, those are two examples. How does that refute what I said? How is that different from this situation? Because the stuff our government wants to charge people with is “bad, mmkay?” I don’t think that’s a very cogent argument.

  11. ratufa says:

    A non-sex tourist example of “We do it too”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Sklyarov

  12. Jay Tea says:

    Ben, you’re reacting as if I was attacking your position. I was, tentatively, trying to bolster it by citing specific examples.

    What I’m saying is that the issue of the accused’s citizenship could be key here. In the US case, we’re charging US citizens for breaking US law in foreign countries upon their return to the US. In Thailand’s case, they’re charging a US citizen for breaking Thai laws within the US — and using his presence in their country as their grounds for the arrest.

    In the sex tourist cases, we’re saying that US citizens are still accountable to US laws even when abroad. In this case, Thailand is asserting that a former Thai citizen — now a US citizen — is accountable to their laws while in the US.

    It’s a sticky issue, and I was trying to thank you for bringing up what I see as a very germane point, and then running with it. I did not in any way intend to refute what you said, but expand on it.

    J.