Achara interviews Joe Gordon

10 11 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has joined those interviewing lese majeste victim Joe Gordon as he returns home to the United States. This level of critical comment by one who has been convicted and released is unusual, and PPT hopes Joe eventually writes up his experience.

Joe again talks about The King Never Smiles. (It seems that the Post is unable to mention the book’s title.) He says he “did buy the book from a bookstore. It was published by Yale University Press and was written in an academic style.” He adds that reading it and posting links to it and unauthorized translations was his right and that he was a “victim of polarised Thai politics. I was in Thailand for health reasons but was dragged into dirty politics.”

A Bangkok Post photo

On prison, he states: “Prison conditions were far beyond being acceptable.”

On repeated refusals of bail for lese majeste inmates: “Without bail, the accused are never able to defend themselves well.”

On the lese majeste law: “It’s a shame that this government doesn’t dare to touch on the controversial aspects. I truly support the Nitirat group in its push for for the amendment [of the law], although I think what we really need is its abolition…. The law is used by conservatives to destroy the progressives.”

On the U.S., lese majeste and his case: “I was dismayed that the US issued a mild statement when I was convicted in December…”. PPT agrees that the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney should be ashamed; they were spineless.

Finally, Joe notes that the “lese majeste law has shown its effect in sabotaging the institution of the monarchy rather than fostering and protecting it.” PPT understands this point but also views lese majeste as a part of the foundation of the repressive royalist state.





BBC interviews Joe Gordon

9 11 2012

In an earlier post, PPT drew attention to an AP interview with lese majeste victim Joe Gordon as he prepared to leave Thailand and return to the United States. A reader pointed us to a BBC interview, with video, of Joe leaving. It is well worth watching.

We noted a couple of things. First, Joe states that The King Never Smiles is “a good book.” It is indeed! Second, on the lese majeste law, Joe is said to be “still fuming” about it, and who can blame him. He states: “it’s an obsolete law…. [It's] an 18th century law…”. Third, there’s the ludicrous statement by a person identified as Pichai Ratanatilaka na Bhuket, claimed to be at the National Institute of Development Administration, and we assume that means he is some kind of academic. Pichai makes the extraordinary claim that (if he is translated correctly) the lese majeste law in Thailand is like anti-terrorism laws in U.S. Even for someone from the remarkably yellow-hued institute, this is an amazing fabrication. If Pichai believes it, then he gets our Homer Simpson award for the dumbest claim we’ve heard today.

We also observe that the BBC gets it wrong when it is stated that the Yingluck Shinawatra government has pursued the lese majeste law with increased vigor. There’s simply no evidence for this claim. That the government is spineless in pushing for change or abolition of the obsolete law is certainly true.





Joe Gordon on lese majeste

8 11 2012

American citizen Joe Gordon was arrested on 26 May 2011 by the Department of Special Investigation on lese majeste, security and related computer crimes infringements accused of translating parts of The King Never Smiles into Thai. Joe was essentially forced to plead guilty but never admitted the offense as charged. He was eventually pardoned on 10 July 2012. Even if he had translated TKNS, that was a legal book in the U.S., where Joe resided. Joe still denies committing any crime admitting that he posted links to the article.

Joe has given his first interview on lese majeste, in this AP report , as he prepared to leave Thailand on 8 November. In it, he vows “never to return until his motherland stops being so ‘thin-skinned’ and allows full freedom of expression.” He says that “the country’s harsh laws outlawing criticism of the monarchy are holding back its democratic development.”

He said his time in Thailand made him “very aware now that Thailand is not really the land of smiles, and you have to be careful what you are doing in this country…. It seems like on the surface a nice country, but if you dig deeper it is dangerous and can harm you.”

As the article notes, Joe’s case raises serious “questions about the applicability of Thai law to acts committed by foreigners outside Thailand…”. He adds: “As an American citizen, I didn’t do anything wrong…. It’s my freedom of expression on American soil.”

Defending freedom of expression, he said that in Thailand the attitude is “if you don’t believe and you don’t follow us in the way we are doing things, it means you are insulting us.”

Joe reveals that when he was arrested, he was accused of “wanting to turn Thailand … into a republic.” He claims “an officer pointed to a poster of the Declaration of Independence … hung on his wall [and] said ‘You want to change this country to be like this. You want a republican [sic.]‘…”.

He also explains that during his 14 months in jail,

his health problems grew worse because of conditions he described as inhumane. He said the situation was worse for those accused of political crimes, such as lese majeste prisoners or those associated with the Red Shirt political movement….

“When the doctor knows that your case is a lese majeste or you are a Red Shirt or you are a political prisoner, they will not treat you, they will not give you medicine,” he said.

Joe called for the lese majeste law to be abolished and for the “release all the political prisoners…”.





Lese majeste and elite (in)justice

18 09 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has a worthy op-ed on a court appearance by a lese majeste prisoner. The article makes a point PPT has mentioned several times: the double standards involved when the political crime of lese majeste is involved. It can be read with a report of the trial, also in the Bangkok Post (PPT will post separately on the trial). The case involves 41 year-old computer programmer Surapak Puchaisaeng.

Surapak was arrested on 2 Sept 2011. Surapak’s case carries the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Achara notes that the “police have accused him of posting defamatory remarks about the royal family on Facebook several months ago. He was denied access to a lawyer on the day of his arrest.” And, of course, in the usual practice – unconstitutional to be sure – he has been “denied bail four times, even though, for his last request, the last bail guarantor was the Justice Ministry.” As PPT has pointed out before, the reason for this, as in many lese majeste cases, is that  Surapak refuses to plead guilty, so the royalist court uses the refusal of bail as a form of torture in trying to get a guilty plea.

Achara points out that Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, the late Ampol Tangnopakul,  and Wanchai Saetan have suffered similar refusals of bail. She could have added Joe Gordon, Surachai Danwattananusorn and several others to the list.

In addition, Achara points out that others “who are routinely denied bail” are the “political prisoners” at the “Temporary Prison at Laksi _ most of whom are grass-roots supporters of the red-shirt movement facing hefty penalties and long prison terms _ face the same situation.”

She notes that “their legal battles for bail have rarely been brought up by the mainstream media.” And she makes the all too obvious point that rich kids get off, get bail, get slapped on the wrist, even when they are responsible for multiple deaths in, say, road crashes.  She makes the points for several cases over several years, showing political and class bias that is the stock-in-trade for the judiciary:

With so many cases pointing to a double standard, it is understandable and inevitable for the public to feel that the legal system is unfair to the poor, and unjust to prisoners of conscience. Justice delayed is justice denied. Sadly, this is not the exception in our our legal system, but the norm that routinely applies to the weak and poor.





A lese majeste update

10 09 2012

The Human Rights Brief is a student-run publication at American University Washington College of Law that has operated since 1994 out of the school’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. The Brief has about 4,000 subscribers in over 130 countries. Last week, it commented on Thailand and the lese majeste law, featuring on its front page this week.

PPT won’t post it all as this academic site is unlikely to be blocked in Thailand, yet some aspects deserve highlighting.

The article begins by noting that Joe Gordon, Ampol Tangnopakul and Darunee Charnchoensilpakul were each sentenced in late 2011. For those who forget these things, those sentences all came after the Yingluck Shinawatra government had been elected to office, although all cases began under earlier administrations. The report notes that these “three cases in particular have triggered international expressions of concern and much domestic debate and activism in a struggle for the future of freedom of expression in Thailand in 2012.”

The report argues that: “Before 2006, Article 112 had been used most frequently by political elites to attack each other’s devotion to the monarchy, which became a proxy for targeting enemies with dissenting political views.” Following the 2006 military coup, the monarchy and the law have been highly politicized.

It is noted that Thailand is:

a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1996, Article 19 of which obligates the country to protect the rights of individuals who seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Nevertheless, supporters of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy deny the law’s harsh effect on freedom of expression. Instead, they cite the need to protect the monarchy as an institution to justify continued enforcement of Article 112.

Further to this, the report reminds us that:

Thailand underwent its Universal Periodic Review in early October 2011, where 14 member states recommended amending or repealing Article 112. A few days later, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Frank la Rue issued a statement calling for amendments to both Article 112 and the CCA. According to the Special Rapporteur, the laws are overly broad and impose harsh criminal sanctions unnecessary to preserve Thailand’s monarchy or national security.

Finally, the report points out that the Yingluck administration has caved in on lese majeste in an effort to appease political opponents in the royalist and palace camps. Hence, it is argues that international pressure and domestic debate about Article 112 must continue.





Trivialities and Thailand

21 08 2012

A headline at the Arizona Daily Star caught PPT’s attention: “Places where ‘trivial’ acts carry harsh penalties.” It flows from the lese Putin jailing of Pussy Riot. The report lists a number of seemingly trivial acts that land people in jail, beginning with this: “But Russia isn’t the only country where people are punished for offenses that many in the West might consider trivial. People can spend years in prison for insulting the king in Thailand…”. On Thailand it states:

The nation has some of the harshest lèse-majesté laws in the world, mandating a jail term of three to five years [PPT: actually, it is 15] for defaming, insulting or threatening the king. Among those who have run afoul of the law is Joe Gordon, a Thai-born American sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for [PPT: allegedly] translating a banned biography about the Thai king and posting it online. He was freed in July by a royal pardon. Amphon Tangnoppakul was not so fortunate. He died in prison in May at age 62, less than a year into a 20-year sentence for [PPT: allegedly] sending four defamatory text messages.

Harsh sentences indeed for trivial acts, and in Joe’s case, acts allegedly committed in the United States where translating parts of a legal book might have raised issues of copyright, but would hardly be considered an act worth years in chains and jail.





Update on lese majeste case against New Zealand citizen

19 08 2012

At Prachatai, there is an update on the case of Thitinant Kaewchantranont (the report is also available as: ตร.ยันหญิงก่อเหตุหมิ่นฯ ยังถูกอายัดตัว แพทย์เผยเป็นโรคจิตจริง เสนอความเห็น พนง.สืบสวนพรุ่งนี้).

The 63 year-old woman, who is a New Zealand citizen, is accused of lese majeste by rabid, neo-fascist yellow shirts, “has been diagnosed as mentally ill by psychiatrists.” Remarkably, though, this is not the end of the legal persecution:

If the accused are found to be permanently mentally ill, having committed the alleged crimes without being able to control themselves, they will probably be acquitted. But, if found to be temporarily mentally ill, they will probably be sentenced to punishment less severe than that prescribed in the law….

In other words, Thitinant could still be convicted and jailed for an act that would hardly raise an eyebrow in most constitutional monarchies around the world.

We would hope that her Embassy would not be cowed by the lese majeste nonsense and will be working tirelessly to return Thitinant to New Zealand. It won’t take much for them to be more pro-active than the U.S. Embassy was in the case of Joe Gordon and the Australians when Harry Nicolaides was jailed.








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