U.N. experts urges reform of Thai royal family law

A United Nations expert on freedom of speech is urging Thailand to amend controversial laws that prohibit defamation of the country’s royal family.

The statement by Frank La Rue Monday said the legislation encourages self-censorship and stifles important debates on matters of public interest. He added that the laws are overly broad and do not conform with the country’s international human rights obligations.

The statement was issued on the same day U.S. citizen Joe Gordon pleaded guilty in Bangkok’s Criminal Court to charges of insulting the monarchy, an offense that could be punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The 55-year-old resident of Colorado was arrested in May while vacationing in Thailand. Gordon, who was born in Thailand, is charged with posting material deemed offensive to the royal family on his blog, as well as a link to a translation of a banned book, while he was living in the U.S.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Gordon said that he did not want to fight the case, but that he hoped for help from the American government.

Thailand’s laws impose jail terms of three to 15 years on “whoever defames, insults or threatens” top members of the country’s royal family.

“The recent spike in lèse majesté cases pursued by the police and the courts shows the urgency to amend them,” said the expert, Frank La Rue, using the legal term for offenses or crimes against a state’s rulers or affronts to their dignity.

La Rue cited section 112 of the Thai penal code, which states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years,” and the computer crimes act, which can impose jail terms of up to five years for any views on the monarchy made on the Internet that are deemed to threaten national security.

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