Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thailand arrests American for alleged king insult

BANGKOK – Thai authorities said Friday they arrested an American citizen on charges he insulted the country's monarchy, in part by posting a link on his blog four years ago to a banned book about the Southeast Asian nation's ailing king.

The man is also suspected of translating, from English into Thai, portions of "The King Never Smiles" — an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej — and posting them online along with articles he wrote that allegedly defame the royal family, said Tharit Pengdith, who heads the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent of the FBI.

The American has denied the charges, according to the Thai-language news website, which tracks cases of lese majeste, as the crime of insulting the monarchy is known.

The 54-year-old Thai-born man lived in the U.S. state of Colorado for around 30 years before returning recently to Thailand for treatment for high blood pressure and gout, the website said. If the allegations are true, the infractions would have been committed while he lived in America — where they are legal — raising concern about the reach of Thai law and how it is applied to Thai nationals and foreign visitors.

Tharit said the man's Thai name was Lerpong Wichaikhammat. Walter M. Braunohler, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Bangkok, identified the American as Joe Gordon and said a consular officer visited him on Friday morning. He declined comment further, saying only that officials were following the case "very closely."

"We're still looking into what the exact charges are," Braunohler told The Associated Press.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lese majeste laws that mandate a jail term of three to 15 years for any person who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent."



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