PPT has long commented on what has become a very nasty standard procedure in lese majeste cases in Thailand: essentially incarcerating lese majeste victims until they are forced to plead guilty. PPT thinks this is a violation of human rights, justice and law. It amounts to an inhumane practice that borders on a form of torture.
This is the case for U.S. citizen Joe Gordon, who has been jailed in Thailand for allegedly insulting the monarchy since late May 2011 and has had many requests for bail rejected.
The Press Association reports that in hoping “for a lenient sentence, a shackled US citizen has pleaded guilty to charges of defaming Thailand’s royal family…”. He is quoted:
I’m not fighting in the case. I’m pleading guilty, sirs,” Gordon, 55, told three judges at a Bangkok criminal court, standing with handcuffs and ankle shackles.
He is likely to be sentenced on 9 November.
He is alleged to have translated “excerpts of a locally banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online.” That book is The King Never Smiles by Paul Handley, published by Yale University Press and, despite the ban, widely available in Thailand in both English and Thai versions. He is also alleged to have provided links on websites for the translations.
Joe is alleged to have committed the crimes “years ago while living in the US state of Colorado, where he worked as a car salesman.”
His lawyer confirms that
The fact that his bail requests have been repeatedly denied – that disheartened him and made him want to plead guilty…. He said he wanted the penalty to be lessened and intended to ask for the royal pardon.
Joe had all along “denied the charges against him…” but continued incarceration in poor and dangerous conditions and facing an uncertain future of a long and deliberately drawn out trial – the punishment for not pleading guilty – he has succumbed. Joe stated that
… pleading innocent was futile. “How can I fight?” he said, adding that the trial is “not fair”. “I want the American government to help me because this is about freedom of expression,” he said.
In a related but longer AP report carried by the influential Fox News in the U.S. states that Joe’s lawyer affirmed that his client had been denied bail eight times.
AP reports that:
American diplomats have pressed Thai authorities unsuccessfully to drop the case, arguing in part that it could damage the country’s tourism image and deter some from visiting.
American officials were present at Monday’s hearing, U.S. Embassy spokesman Walter M. Braunohler said.
“We will also continue to raise his case with Thai authorities, stressing at every possible opportunity his rights as an American citizen,” Braunohler said. “We urge Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression is respected.”
Joe’s case is said to have “raised concerns about the reach of Thai law and how it is applied to both Thai nationals and foreign visitors.” It should do more than this. The use of extended incarceration for lese majeste victims in order to force guilty pleas is a form of torture, defined by the U.N. in this way:
… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
PPT reads this statement as having direct relevance to the way that Thailand’s legal authorities pressure lese majeste victims and subject them to mental suffering in order to obtain a confession. This is cause for foreign governments, including that of the U.S. to condemn the forcible extraction of confessions from lese majeste victims.
Update 1 : A reader points out that we neglected to draw attention to human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The reader asks: are they even interested in considering the ill-treatment of lese majeste victims as illegal and torture? PPT won’t be holding its breath. Moving human rights organizations seems increasingly like dealing with bureaucratic and state-like agencies.
Update 2: Prachatai reports on the case, stating that 10 applications for bail were made. The report also has some further background on Joe, noting, for example, his participation in the making of the classic movie Thong Pan in the 1970s and work with the Songs for Life singer Nga Caravan.