Man faces prison for ‘insulting’ Thai king
In many countries that still maintain a royal family it is seen as perfectly acceptable to satirise, question and even openly criticise the reigning monarch.
But Thai-born American citizen Lerpong Wichaikhammat has found that this norm does not apply to the country of his birth. According to UK newspaper The Guardian 55-year-old Leprong, who also goes by the name Joe Gordon, could face up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to insulting Thailand’s king.
Leprong’s ‘crime’ was to translate an article critical of King Bhumibol Adulyadejand and post it onto his blog. Officially he has been charged with ‘using the internet to disseminate information that insults or threatens the monarchy’.
He was also accused of previously posting an online link to a controversial biography of the monarch, The King Never Smiles, which is banned in Thailand.
Thailand is one of the most popular gap year destinations in the world, and its King Bhumibol Adulyadejand is, at 83-years-old, the world’s longest reigning monarch.
Criticism of the king is a criminal offence, and Thailand has the world’s toughest laws on insulting its monarchy. Locally, the term for this is 'lese majeste', a topic which has been become a major talking point on Twitter.
However, while the penalty for insulting the king is theoretically severe, until recently few people were actually charged with such offences. In the 15 years prior to 2006, only four or five cases were usually brought to court each year.
However, between 2006 and 2009, there have been 397 known cases submitted to the courts. Political motivations have been cited by experts as a major influence on the increase of such cases, with critics stating the law is being used to discredit activitists.
During his own trial, Lerpong Wichaikhammat told journalists in court: "I plead guilty because no one can win the case."
He added: "I have no chance. I want the American government to help release me. This is a case of freedom of expression."
The US embassy in Bangkok said he was receiving consular assistance.
Judges are scheduled to give their verdict on 9 November 2011.
Photo of King Bhumibol Adulyadej taken by Abhisit Vejjajiva (via Creative Commons)
Story and quotes sourced from The Guardian
Do you think the laws protecting the monarchy in Thailand are fair? Should we adopt such laws in the UK? Have you ever committed a criminal faux pas on your gap year? Let us know by leaving some comments below.