Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Gordon

13 11 2011

Prachatai has another article by Lisa Gardner on the continuing lese majeste torture of U.S. citizen Joe Gordon, accused of translating works and posting links to Paul Handley’s widely available The King Never Smiles that almost anyone in Thailand who wants to has seen. Joe is was arrested in Thailand and accused of such “crimes” allegedly committed while he was living in the United States.

The report states that Joe is: “A political prisoner, no question; and a U.S. citizen, no less. A used car salesman from Boulder, Colorado. By international standards, the charges are conspicuously political as they are innocuous.”

Gardner refers to someone who goes by the apparently lightly worn moniker of “human rights advocate.” This person claims that his organization “can’t take up his case without knowing if he’s as pure as the driven snow…”.

That line and similar ones have been mouthed by several allegedly human rights advocates in Thailand, not least by the ever quiet Benjamin Zawacki at Amnesty International. As a major human rights organization, AI embarrasses itself and it supporters by its public silence on lese majeste. It has done nothing for the hundreds of victims of lese majeste repression and torture in Thailand.

Given that Joe has been forced through incarceration and multiple refusals bail – this is the torture in lese majeste repression – to plead guilty, he must now rely “solely on a royal pardon to ensure his release.

A correspondent to Prachatai states that he wrote to the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney on Joe’s case and received the following reply:

“Thank you for your letter to Ambassador Kenney of 3 October regarding Mr. Joe W. Gordon. While overseas, all private foreign nationals are subject to the laws of the country where they are located. Many of these laws are vastly different from U.S. laws. As you know, the Thai Department of Special Investigations accused Mr. Gordon, a private U.S. citizen, of lèse-majesté, specifically violating Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code and Section 14(3)(5) of the Thai Computer Crimes Act.

Since Mr Gordon’s arrest in May, Ambassador Kenney and other Embassy officials have raised Mr. Gordon’s situation with the Thai government officials many times, urging fair treatment and respect for his rights to freedom of expression. Embassy officials visit Mr. Gordon in jail regularly and attended his court hearings, most recently on October 10. We remain committed to providing Mr. Gordon all possible assistance allowed a private citizen under international convention.

Sincerely,

Chief of American Citizen Services Unit”

The essential element of this is that the embassy and ambassador are doing nothing for Joe. They are meant to visit all U.S. citizens in prison, showing up in their air-conditioned cars and neatly pressed clothes to provide faux sympathy for a citizen in leg irons and prison garb accused of a crime in the United States. Big deal that they claim to take the case up with Thai government officials several times, “urging fair treatment and respect for his rights to freedom of expression.”

That is, frankly, diplomatic speak for doing nothing. Where is the expression of a U.S. citizen’s right to free speech in the United States? All this lot are doing is following previous ambassadorial advice: keeping a quiet public front, urging a guilty plea from the defendant (whether they are guilty or not), and then hoping for a pardon. Despite the fact that its own Human Rights report complains of a generalized pressure to sign confessions, U.S. diplomats play the palace’s game with them and do nothing to confront a dangerous abuse of basic civil rights.

Now here’s a thought or perhaps a wild dream. U.S. President Barack Obama is about to visit the Southeast Asia region. In that visit he will, according to the State Department, amongst other things, “stand up for democratic values.” The State Department has commented, just in the past few days, on human rights abuses in Vietnam, Burma, Uganda, Syria and Afghanistan, just to name a few. Secretary of State Clinton, who is about to visit Thailand, has recently made several statements on human rights and democracy, praising the U.S. ambassador in Syria as one of our diplomats of courage, who “was mobbed, assaulted, and threatened, just for meeting with peaceful protestors, he put his personal safety on the line to let the Syrian people know that America stands with them.”

What about letting an American citizen know that America stands with him? Why not have Obama raise Joe’s case and the human rights abuse that is lese majeste? What about having Clinton do the same. What about having Ambassador Kenney be a diplomat of courage and visit Joe and other lese majeste victims? Maybe Clinton can specifically mention lese majste in a public way. Maybe the State Department can even list the victims of lese majeste repression as political prisoners in its annual human rights report, where its most recent 2011 report continues to state the ludicrously erroneous (and palpably stupid) single line: “There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.”

While we doubt such acts of diplomatic “courage” will be seen, it would be a welcome change to see the United States act in a way that at least appeared to be something other than a supporter of the royalist status quo in Thailand.

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