Wednesday, October 12, 2011

U.S. Citizen Pleads Guilty to Insulting Thai Monarchy, Appeals to State Department for Help

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- A U.S. citizen pleaded guilty on Monday to insulting Thailand’s monarchy, an offense that carries a criminal penalty of up to 15 years. The suspect has called on Washington to help release him, citing the need to support his freedom of expression. Similar to North Korea, the people of Thailand regard their ruler, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as practically divine. The country boasts one of the world’s toughest laws on lese-majeste, or insulting the monarchy. The man in question, whose name is being withheld from the press by request of the U.S. Department of State, was charged with using the Internet to disseminate inflammatory rhetoric, criticisms, and information that was deemed insulting and threatening to the monarchy. “I pled guilty because no one can win the case,” the man told reporters. “I have no chance. I want the American government to help release me. This is a case of freedom of expression.”

The accused, who resides in Garden Grove, Calif., said he discovered that his case had gone to court in Thailand after receiving a letter in the mail from the Thai government. The letter came with a package that included a home detention monitoring device and instructions on how to attach it to his ankle and activate it.

“Because this is happening in another country, I am not allowed to seek legal counsel or appeal to a local magistrate,” the suspect said. “Every day or two, I get phone calls from a couple of Thai men who claim to be my case workers. They tell me there is nothing I can do from here...that I may have to remain under house arrest for the next 15 years. Even then, they say my punishment could be worse after the judge issues his verdict. I could be executed. I sit in my house every night worrying that a package with a knife or poison will show up. I’ve done nothing deserving of death.”

But representatives from the State Department say that there’s little they can do.

“This is a crime being prosecuted from a country outside our jurisdiction,” a spokesperson said. “If we intervene, we could trigger an international incident with dangerous repercussions. We have spoken with the embassy in Thailand and asked them to consider extraditing the suspect back to U.S. custody. He could then leave his house in Garden Grove and deal with local authorities in Orange County, Calif. But we haven’t gotten a response. At this point, it’s just a tense waiting game. Our hands are tied until we can establish a dialog with the court in Thailand. After that, we may have to involve NATO, but we fear escalating the situation into an actual conflict. A lot of innocent people live on that street in Garden Grove. Having an international peacekeeping force show up to extricate the man from his prison could lead to collateral damage. Until we get more information on the case, we aren’t prepared to commit to a full-scale rescue operation.”

More details to come as they develop.

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