The verdict was traduttore, traditore, “(translator, traitor”) in a Thai court last week, when judges sentenced Thai translator Joe Gordon to two and a half years in prison for translating part of a book banned in Thailand as critical of the king. Lese-majesty is what the French call if, for “injury to the king,” which translate to 15 years or more in the Thai slammer for ‘whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.”
Thai-born Joe Wichai Commart Gordon had pleaded guilty to the charges in October. He was arrested in May while visiting Thailand and accused of violating Thailand’s infamous Article 112, which basically allows anyone to charge anyone else with insulting the king, making the law into a handy ax for political punishment.
While a US citizen in the US, Gordon posted a link to a Thai translation of The King Never Smiles, a critical bio of the current king by Paul Handley. Gordon has also plead guilty to charges he assisted in the translation too. His insulting internet behavior earned the attention of the King’s spiders in the “war room,” a windowless command center where Thai security authorities seek to digitally detect and punish critics of the King and apparently their translators too.
So the next time Joe visited Thailand, he had a surprise visit from the Thai Department of Special Investigations (DSI). Gordon describes his ordeal in Prachatai.
“The DSI came to arrest me. They brought twenty officials with them, to my house. I’d just come out of the bathroom. I was only wearing a towel around my waist. So I asked them, ‘Can I put some clothes on, please?’ They said, “No! Sit right there,” as they went through my things.
“They searched through everything. Then they took all my money; my computer, my hard drive, and my phone.” And hauled him off to jail.
In the same interview, Gordon called on the US Government for asisstance. “I want President Obama and (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton to intervene in my behalf — to pay attention to what’s happening to me,” he says. “To help me. I’m a citizen of the United States.”
Now that sentence has been passed, its looking like Joe the translator asked for a lot more than he got. The State Department has been belly crawling below to get below the radar on this sensitive royal story. Official US stance? “Dissapointed” that the Thai Government had convicted an American citizen practicing his First Amendment right to free speech in America by translating something. The US has a good thing going with Thailand, and its surely not in the national interest of the US to alienate Thai royalists just because some translator got nailed for translating the wrong thing. Do you think the problems of one lone translator mount to a hill of beans in this crazy world?
Seems like Gordon’s gotten the message too, since he’s already plead guilty to the charges so as to halve his five year conviction. Hopefully a low profile may earn him a pardon from the King himself, which is the usual way such sensitive violations of this draconian law are handled.
Locals face more severe consequences. “Sixty-one-year-old cancer sufferer Amphon Tangnoppaku, dubbed ‘Uncle SMS,’ was jailed for 20 years last month for sending text messages deemed to have disparaged Queen Sirikit,” says Reuters, although the messages have not been made public. Seems the police and prosecutors feel obliged to follow up accusations of lese-majeste– for fear of being tarred with the same brush–and so the charge has become an easy weapon for political opponents to use against each other.
So I wonder if the King’s spiders search in English too? I may have become a subject of interest just by mention of this subject. Or for visitors too. Apparently you can get busted for even a “like” or a link to such royally offensive content. So I’d be careful if I were you with the way you handled this story, just in case you don’t want to open your eyes to some security goons blocking your sun next time you’re on the beach at Koh Pi Pi.