U.S. citizen sent to jail for insulting Thai monarchy

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2011 10:48 PM
U.S. citizen sent to jail for insulting Thai monarchy

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen was given 2- years in prison on Thursday for insulting the Thai monarchy, the latest in a series of draconian sentences handed down for lese-majeste and one that could cause friction with the United States.

Thai-born Lerpong Wichaikhammat, 55, had pleaded guilty in October to using the Internet to disseminate information that insulted the monarchy, charges stemming from material posted on his blog in the United States, where he has citizenship.

"The defendant is found guilty ... The court sentenced him to five years in prison. But he pleaded guilty. That makes the case easier, so the court decided to cut it in half to 2 years and six months," a judge said at a Criminal Court in Bangkok.

Thailand has the world's toughest lese-majeste laws protecting its monarch and there has been a big increase in the number of cases in recent years, coinciding with a period of political turbulence in the country.

Lerpong, who goes by the name of Joe Gordon, was also accused of providing a web link to a biography by an American author of 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej that is banned in Thailand, where many people regard the king as almost divine.

Before the verdict was read out, Lerpong was allowed to speak to reporters.

"I'm not Thai, I'm American. I was just born in Thailand. I hold an American passport. In Thailand there are many laws that don't allow you to express opinions but we don't have that in America," he said.

Critics say the law is being abused to discredit activists and politicians. The number of lese-majeste cases, especially those lodged by the military, has jumped in recent years.

The generals who overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 cited his alleged disrespect for the monarchy among other reasons.

"Personally I don't know Thaksin and usually I don't get involved in politics. I'm proud to be American," Lerpong said.

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Jutarat Skulpichetrat and Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)