American Arrested in Thailand for Linking to a Website from his Blog

Bloggers in Thailand, be careful what you write and link to from your website.

For some years now I have been very careful about what I write and discuss on the subject of Thailand. The name of the country is supposed to translate as the “land of the free”. However, it is only free up to an extent. Thailand these days now has one of the worst track records for freedom of the press. I own a number of blogs and forums. Everything has to be carefully moderated and anything posted that might be seen as detrimental to the institution has to be quickly deleted. This includes comments made by other people. If we delay deleting something, even as late as only 24 hours, we could be arrested and sent to prison. It doesn’t matter if we wrote it or not. As moderators and administrators we have to take responsibility.

The highest institution is of course the royal family. I think even newcomers to blogging in Thailand know that they should avoid that subject. Personally I don’t discuss anything to do with the royal family on my blogs unless I close the comment section. It is just too risky. And not only in the comments as some Thai people might misunderstand the intention of my own words. When it comes to the lese majeste law, anyone can file a complaint with the police and it must be followed up. The Nation recently reported that between 2006-2009 the number of cases have increased by 1,500% compared to the previous period [see story].

What I want to do here today is warn any foreign bloggers or forum moderators out there based in Thailand that they too can be targetted. It wasn’t that long ago that an Australian wrote a novel that had a page about a fictitious crown prince. It was self-published and only sold a handful of copies. But, that didn’t make any difference. He was arrested and charged with lese majeste [see story]. I cannot even tell you about the case otherwise I could be charged with lese majeste for talking about it. That is what happened to some foreign journalists who gave a talk at the FCCT in Bangkok [see story]. So, up to now, it is pretty clear you have to be careful what you write and discuss on your blogs and forums based in Thailand.

Now comes the news that an American citizen has just been arrested for linking to a pdf download of a banned book about the Thai King. We don’t know many details yet as the Thai media are not allowed to discuss lese majeste cases in detail. However, from Prachatai I have managed to get the followed information:

Apparently the DSI brought Joe (not his real name) to the Ratchada Criminal Court on 26th May 2011 with the charges of lese majeste and the Computer Crime act. Joe is a 54 year old resident of Nakhon Ratchasima Province. He is Thai by birth but has lived in Colarado, America for 30 years. He recently returned to Thailand for medical treatment. The blog in question dates back to 2007 where he allegedly put a link to a download of a banned book, “The King Never Smiles”. Joe denies doing this and has requested help form the American Embassy. He was denied bail and now resides in jail at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

So, I cannot emphasise enough, if you are a blogger or forum administrator based in Thailand or go to Thailand for your holidays, be careful what you write, or allow to be written on your blogs and forums. You could end up in a Thai prison if you don’t practice self-censorship. Don’t say that you weren’t warned.

Link to original story in Thai: http://www.prachatai.com/journal/2011/05/35124

UPDATE: This story has now been picked up by the AP and AFP and is being widely reported around the world [see story]. New details emerging from the police are this: “He translated articles which are deemed insulting to the monarchy and posted them on his blog. Also he provided a link to a book”. I will update more later if anything new emerges. However, we are not allowed to report on exactly what he translated.

35 responses to “American Arrested in Thailand for Linking to a Website from his Blog

  1. Hi Richard,

    Good to bring the warning out again! I would think that too many people visiting and/or living in Thailand are not aware of these very strict ‘lese majeste’ laws.

  2. Stephen Cysewski

    This random and seemingly arbitrary event is frightening. We are planning our annual trip to Thailand, but I think I will wait to book until after the election.

  3. Remember when Mark Zuckerberg came to Thailand and there was a big press frenzy about him being awesome. The whole time he was here, I was hoping they’d put him in jail for all the Lese Majest, that’s been posted on his website.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

    If I were the CEO of a big website (facebook / twitter / wikipedia / youtube …) in a foreign country, I would never set foot on Thai soil due to these silly laws.

  4. This is unbelievable news Richard.

    The lese majeste laws are the most powerful weapon in the country and as you point out “… anyone can file a complaint with the police and it must be followed up.”

    Anyone with a website in Thailand, or which covers Thailand topics, MUST hold and moderate submitted comments. To not do so is foolish and playing Russian roulette.

    Because the media cannot report on trials involving breaches of the lese majeste rules there is little hope of hearing little more than the outcome of this trial. The fact that this man is being held – and can be held for 45-days with charges being laid is truly a frightening concept.

  5. The present Thailand government needs to takes its head out of its butt before Thailand starts getting bench-marked against Burma and North Korea instead of Singapore and Korea/Japan.

    Arresting a U.S. citizen for having a link on his blog to a Yale University Press book?!

    Hopefully, in the upcoming election, the present group of coup-meisters will be sent into the fog of history and Thailand can be on the move to a better and brighter future.

  6. Richard: You report that Joe recently returned to Thailand from the U.S., and that he allegedly posted the link in 2007. Was he in the U.S. when the post was made? Was it on a website maintained in the U.S.?

  7. We don’t have those details as yet. But, both the AFP and AP are now running with this story. We also have a name:

    Thai-born Lerpong Wichaikhammat, 54, was arrested on Tuesday in Nakhon Ratchasima province in northeast Thailand and is currently being held at Bangkok Remand Prison.

    “He translated articles which are deemed insulting to the monarchy and posted them on his blog. Also he provided a link to a book” perceived as critical of the royal family, said police Lieutenant Colonel Kovit Tardmee.

    “He left Thailand when he was 35 and returned for medical treatment in November 2009. He is scheduled to go back to the US this December.”

    http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article1088689.ece/Thailand-charges-US-citizen-with-insulting-royals

  8. Hey guys.
    Its sad to see that people criticizing the law here in Thailand. I know its not perfect and its tight at some topics but whatever it is you have to respect the law. You chose to live or work in Thailand that means you have to agree to all the rules the country has. Not just Thailand any country. If you don’t like it then its better to go home. I am a foreigner too but I respect the laws of the country i am working. Doesnt matter if I like it or Not because I would also expect the same respect for my countries law from the foreigners living in my country. Its really Sad.

  9. r10wota, who says I was criticizing the law? I am only giving a warning to bloggers (both Thai and foreign) to be careful on what they write and link to. Anyway, this law is being criticized by more and more Thai academics who want to see it repelled.

    Thanks for your comments.

  10. I am sorry but you seem to forget “This is Thailand” its there Country and the lese majeste laws are the Law of this Country. If you don’t like them Don’t stay here
    I have been here 11 years and never had a problem with anyone from my Neighbours too the Police.
    I love the King, I think he does a fantastic job and every Thai person I know Loves Adores and Admires the King.
    I remember recently that a UK teenager wrote something rude about your US President and he is barred from ever entering the USA.
    America is no freer that many other countries, its Not Better than all the rest indeed having visited it once I would never want to return there.
    Please Blog with an open mind Don Chiangmai

  11. r1 Owota. I think you are wrong. It is quite right to RESPECT the law in Thailand in as much as you abide by it – which is what you mean. However, that does not mean you cannot be critical of it. You appear to have confused the two issues. People who live here as guests are affected by the laws, as are tourists, and it is not unreasonable for them to be critical of the law whilst still abiding by them. The lese majeste laws are draconian and are used as a tool to suppress free speech. There you go – i just critisised the law on lese majeste but i abide by it by not in any way critisising His revered Majesty the King.

  12. Cheez! it’s their backyard if you dont like the rules dont go in to play, simple. Jn

  13. Thanks Don for your comments. However, I am not American so he is not my President. I do have an open-mind. Just reporting the facts. Interpretation is up to you.

  14. John, I have lived and worked in Thailand a long time. I am a tax payer and even though I cannot vote, I do have a healthy interest in politics as it can and most likely affect my Thai company here. The standard reply of “if you don’t like it then go home” is all a bit silly and childish don’t you think? Of course I abide by all the laws which is why I wrote this blog to warn others to be careful. In particular moderators of blogs and forums. In my time I have had to delete some pretty bad comments that were very lese majeste. It is very important for people to be aware of the present law and the implications. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t write the comment. As a moderator if you are slow in deleting it you also face 3-15 years in prison which is what has just recently happened to one Thai webmaster.

  15. The sad thing is Thailand is going through many differcult problems at the moment. It is true one should take care on what comments they say or wait about when it invovles the the King and his family. A persons personnal view can be respectful, but someone else may well read it different. I find it’s these other peoples views that can be the problem and one will hope the royal family will express their own views on what they believe is right and correct ways to discuss them and the King. I am sure in his wisdom and care for his people, his guides and recommendations to ‘Lese majeste’ need to be sort, to stop others from using it to beat down others who maybe need to hear his guidence.

  16. r10wota: sorry, but you have it all just exactly backwards. The implementation and penalties imposed by the LM law are unjust and violations of basic human rights – expression, speech, press…basic political and social rights.

    I AM criticizing the law for these very reasons. More to the point is that Thailand’s army uses the law to silence critics in ways that have nothing to do with the monarchy.

    So, it’s an unjust law. How dare Thai politician put their own citizens in jail for 5, 10 or 15 years for speaking their minds. This law besmearches the monarchy and Thailand tremendously on its own.

    While this law exists, Thailand will never be seen as more than a back-water, third-world, also-ran SE Asian country with a funky, oppressive government. This, while the ruling and corporate elites, backed by the military, lord over one of the worst educated populations in the world. No amount of tall, shiny, glittery new malls can change these facts.

    You have it exactly backwards by telling people who know the differences and how democracies are supposed to function, to leave. That would be abandoning Thais to the oppressors.

  17. go to Rome do as Rome do..so i agree with r10wota. as i am thai. so many thing that perhaps i don’t agree with.. but sometime we have to following our leader and our law.to be able to live in this country.but you can change the systems. someday when we become a leader or select our right and good leader perhaps we will see some change in this society but today.. we have to do what we have to do to become “one country” and follow our leader and our law.. until then..

  18. Knowing a bit more about the story now, I agree with Richards point of view. Abide by the law(s) in Thailand but you can be critical of (these) laws without criticizing His revered Majesty the King.

  19. Hi Richard – long time no speak!
    I have been linked to this site for many years, and have appreciated all your input.
    Once again, I thank you.

  20. Just another reason so many westerners now are avoiding Thailand for their holidays.

    It’s very sad, but this story, which has now made international news, is going to badly damage Thailand’s reputation.

    I’ve been in Thailand for years, but plan on leaving permanently soon. I can’t continue to live in a country that clamps down on free speech this much. I’m off back to Europe next year. Can’t wait actually 🙂

  21. And to Don in Chiang Mai, nobody is EVER banned from the US for “writing something rude about the US president”. So you’re wrong there.

  22. I follow the deep wisdom and experienced opinions of Ajarn Sulak Srivaksa (the passionate Thai Buddhist intellectual who has himself been the ‘target’ of many a lese majeste charge) on these matters. He suggests that the law (Article 112) in fact does more harm than good to the nation’s highest institution. He, along with others, criticize the law PRECISELY BECAUSE they too wish to protect the institution. It would seem many people can’t seem to conceive of how this works. As a great admirer and respecter of HM the King of Thailand myself, I truly hope and pray that the dire warnings Sulak made about the repercussions of this illogical law at the FCCT discussion on the topic last week don’t play out the way they might. So, the message is: Thais could potentially protect the integrity of the highest institution MORE effectively by reforming and/or abolishing the lese majeste law than sitting back and uncritically allowing it to be wielded as it is being done now: as a reactionary political tool reminiscent of the worst fascist regimes (what I’m saying here is that’s the way it easily APPEARS to anyone with a historical education – and that’s not good for Thailand!). Please read Sulak everyone.

  23. Frankiedimes

    @Don. The UK teen you speak of sent an email to the White house, insulting and threatening the President of the United States. Anyone who threatens the President of the United States will be investigated by the FBI. This is quite different from insulting someone on a blog or website. He directly threatened the President, by sending him an email. This teen is banned from entering the United States and rightfully so. U.S. Presidents are insulted a million times everyday by U.S. citizens and foreignors inside the United States as well as abroad and nothing is done (Freedom of Speach). Threatening to due harm to the President is something totally different, which I am sure you will agree.

  24. I’ve always thought of Thailand as a place I’d love to visit. Now I think it’s best avoided.

  25. The problem is not the “rule of law” itself but abuse of the legal system by using the law, not only the lese majeste laws, by people to further their own political ambitions or beliefs.

    Respect for any institution does not come from fear and abuse, it comes from freedom and desire. Certain sectors of the Thai population are hanging onto a way of life that is quickly changing, much to their detriment, the abuse of the legal and political systems to hang onto what little control they can muster is sad to see but will not last.

  26. There’s a war goin on outside no one is safe from!
    -MOBB DEEP

  27. The world will be a better place without american interference.

  28. I haven’t written for Thai-blogs in two years and the day I decided to check back on my old stuff is now. What a headline to come back to!

    To the credits of other comments. Yes, we’re still going to be viewed as backwater third world also ran. Yes, our government is oppressive. Yes, it so totally suck and unfair. Freedom of the press, something we never have and probably never will. It’s not only the government, but the cultures too.

    Having said that, I have to once again emphasize to potential visitors and other folks that because you’re “free” where you come frome, it doesn’t apply to you while you’re in Thailand.

    We’re not free. And neither are you while you’re our guests. We don’t expect to be free and clear of your laws while we’re in your country. We don’t expect any less from you. Obey our law and have a nice vacation/extended stay. Break it, well, whose fault is that?

    This is Thailand, all of our glory with all of our flaws. Love it or leave it, or fight for a change to love it again.

    After all, freedom does not come free.

    (As for me? I took a cowardly way out and ran to the U.S. where I can run my mouth off. Hee.)

  29. RealityBites

    Such a pity that psychopaths rule the world.

    Only when the sheep grow teeth will the wolf learn.

  30. The “if you don’t like the law, go home” attitude is ridiculous. If everyone had that attitude, laws would never evolve. If you were in the United States when women were demanding the right to vote, would you tell them to go home and stop criticizing the law? Just think of what kind of world we would live in if people didn’t stand up and demand change to unfair and cruel laws!

  31. To Holly: in my opinion foreigners shall not interfer in local politics and law making. These should be subjects restricted to the local voters. If the voters are happy with the actual laws or the lawmakers they elect at the Parliament, foreigners have to accept it!

  32. ThaiInfoSeeker

    Thank you for this information, Richard. Much of what you say here is new to me. I had no idea how diligent you have to be as a writer and blog owner in Thailand. I can understand now why most Thai blogs enable comment moderation. The American you mention should have understood the risks he was taking in posting the link and translations. As you indicate, most foreign tourists and foreigners who live in Thailand, or even those thinking about visiting, are aware of the country’s lese majeste laws. I wonder what kind of legal representation, if any, is offered to a foreigner who violates these laws. Thanks for the update on this story. Please keep us posted.

  33. thx for this article,this story make me afraid too

  34. It’s fairly easy for someone to report you if they go to http://report.thaihotline.org I know the other day someone reported my site, not sure for what though. I was wondering Richard if you know where I could get more information on the laws specifically what could be interpreted as morally unexeptable. Though I know I’m not as explicit as say stickman after being reported I kinda started thinking about it which is how i came to this page.
    Do you think it’s basically to do with politics, pornography, and the royals in which you could land yourself in hot water? Have you heard of anyone being done for something else?

  35. I think 9 times out of 10 it is someone jealous of your success and just want to cause trouble for you. These days we have to be careful with live comments as you can be arrested for things other people post on your blog/forum. Best to moderate everything in these dark days.