There’s an AP feature story at the Winnipeg Free Press that is worth reading in full. It comments on US policy and the fate of lese majeste victim Joe Gordon.
It begins: “The U.S. government prides itself on standing up for freedom of speech around the world, but when it comes to longtime ally Thailand and its revered monarch, Washington treads carefully — even when an American citizen is thrown in jail.”
It is sometimes neglected, but the critical element of Joe’s sentencing is that it was for a “crime” committed as an American citizen while he was living in Colorado. Yes, he is claimed to have translated bits of a perfectly legal and widely available book, by a reputable publisher, while in the United States.
So what does the US government do? It “has offered a measured response to the ‘severe’ sentence — saying it was ‘troubled’ by the outcome and asserting the right to free expression of people around the world. It has avoided direct criticism of Thailand over its use of laws punishing lese majeste, the crime of insulting a monarch.”
Indeed, the report should have added that, like royalist posterior polishers in Thailand, the US went out of its way to declare “loyalty” to the monarchy.
The report points out the glaringly obvious: “Washington’s comments pale next to the strident criticism it gives when dissidents, even those without U.S. ties, are jailed by more authoritarian governments in the neighbourhood, like China and Vietnam. The State Department typically calls for dissidents’ immediate release and urges the government in question to uphold international law.”
The report looks for the reasons for this blatant and jarring contradiction in US policy, saying the “muted U.S. response may be partly explained by an unwillingness to spoil efforts to secure a royal pardon for Gordon, as has happened for foreigners previously convicted of lese majeste.” This is always the excuse of consular and embassy officials and ambassadors who privately express outrage, but only as far as the next cocktail party with the Thai royalist and hi-so elite.
The report also adds that the muted response “also reflects the depth of U.S. relations with Thailand, which date back to 1833. The country was viewed as a bulwark against the spread of communism and served as a key base for U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. As the Obama administration seeks to step up its engagement in Asia, it wants to consolidate its old alliances.” That’s undoubtedly true. It could be added that US anti-communism in Thailand helped create the wealthy and politically powerful monarchy. It poured millions into supporting anti-communist propaganda that promoted the king, royal family and the monarchy.
The report might have also pointed out that US corporations have extensive business interests in Thailand, and protecting the rights of one US citizen (in the US) is said by weak-kneed officials to threaten those interests. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the China case, where business interests dwarf those in Thailand.
There is another claim: That “Washington may also view behind-the-scenes efforts to get Thai authorities to ease up on lese majeste prosecutions more effective in a society where public criticism can backfire.” Like an Asia Times story on “behind-the-scenes” dealing, this claim has no source. Until there is a shred of evidence, PPT believes it is the usual royalist guff sprouted when the regime is under pressure and that little will change.
The story has the other and usual royalist nonsense about “Bhumibol is revered in Thailand and widely seen as a stabilizing force” without considering why the lese majeste law is being used so harshly and whether there is much historical truth to the claim.
Another claim is: “Even among Washington think tanks and U.S. universities, experts on Thailand often prefer not to discuss the monarchy and lese majeste for fear they could be blacklisted.” There are relatively few experts on Thailand in the US, and those close to the State Department are almost universally royalist flunkies.
That US officials, including several ambassadors, have failed the citizens they are meant to represent is clear from even the State Department’s Human Rights reports that regularly parrot that there are no political prisoners in Thailand. Thailand’s Truth for Reconciliation Commission makes the State Department look stupid on this, listing more than 100 still in prison following the events of 2010.
Even the Democrat Party has acknowledged that: “Violations of the state of emergency … along with lese-majeste offences or computer crimes can be counted as political charges…”. If the people who put most of the political prisoners behind bars can acknowledge it, why not the US government and its officials?
When the State Department wrote its last report, there were hundreds more, and that is not including all of the victims of lese majeste and of the southern conflict, where hundreds more could be added to the list of political prisoners.