Dual Thai-US citizen Joe Gordon was sentenced to two and a half years in prison yesterday under the lese-majeste law and the Computer Crimes Act for translating parts of a banned book about the King and posting them on the Internet while in the United States, prompting an immediate expression of concern from a locally based US official.
US consul-general Elizabeth Pratt, who was at the Criminal Court for the verdict, registered her concern about the "severity" of the sentence and the state of freedom of expression in Thailand.
"We support freedom of expression both here in Thailand and around the world. We fully consider Joe Gordon to be a US citizen," Pratt told reporters.
Gordon, 54, whose Thai name is Lerphong Wichaikammart, pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduction of his sentence from five years to two and a half years in prison.
Thai-born Gordon, who has lived in the US for nearly 30 years, stressed during the trial his status as a US citizen and the fact that the acts in question occurred in the United States. Minutes after the verdict was handed down, he said he believed there is no freedom of expression in Thailand regarding issues relating to the monarchy.
"It's apparent that there're still limits on freedom of expression," said a disappointed-looking Gordon. He denied having any association with either the red- or the yellow-shirt movement, or being in contact with fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the 2006 coup and convicted on an abuse-of-power charge in 2008.
"I'm an American citizen. What happened was in America… I look like Thais but I don't think like Thai people," he said, referring to the partial translation of the banned book "The King Never Smiles", written by journalist Paul Handley and published by Yale University Press.
Gordon complained that prison conditions were "terrible" and that justice had been denied to him when he was earlier refused bail.
About 10 people showed up at the court yesterday to support Gordon, who has decided to seek a royal pardon.
CJ Hinke, founder of Bangkok-based Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), a free-speech advocacy group that opposes the lese-majeste law and the Computer Crimes Act, said freedom of expression should also be about "freedom from future retaliation".
Hinke criticised authorities for forcing Gordon to endure the "humiliation" of appearing in court bare-footed with chains around both his ankles.
One Thai reporter asked Arnon Nampa, Gordon's lawyer, what the book was about. Arnon described it as an "academic" work about the monarchy and Thai politics, adding that it contains no inflammatory language in its discussion of the monarchy.
The lawyer said he would begin the process of seeking a royal pardon immediately.
Asked by The Nation whether he would leave Thailand once he becomes a free man, Gordon, who was arrested while in Thailand seeking medical attention, answered that he might stay on, saying, "I want to see Amazing Thailand."