The United States said Monday it is troubled by recent court rulings in Thailand inconsistent with international standards of freedom of expression.
On Nov. 23, a Thai court sentenced 61-year-old grandfather Amphon Tangnoppakul to 20 years in prison for sending four text messages deemed offensive to the Thai queen. Amphon was punished under tough laws aimed at protecting the monarchy and combating computer crimes.
Thailand is a U.S. treaty ally, and State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, Darragh Paradiso, said the United States has utmost respect for the Thai monarchy. But she said the U.S. is “troubled by recent prosecutions and court decisions that are not consistent with international standards of freedom of expression.”
It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. has raised Amphon’s case with Thai authorities.
Rights groups say his sentence is the heaviest handed down for a case of lese majeste, the crime of insulting the monarch. The European Union also has expressed its deep concern.
Amphon, who has mouth cancer, denies sending the text messages, saying he was unfamiliar with the text message function on mobile phones and did not know the recipient of the messages, a secretary of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The messages were sent in May 2011, during a period of violent, political unrest.
Later this week, Thai-born American Joe Gordon is due to be sentenced for translating excerpts of a locally banned biography of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online. Gordon has pleaded guilty to the alleged crimes committed years ago while living in Colorado, and faces up to 15 years in jail.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday protested the “shocking” severity of recent penalties for lese majeste offenses and urged democratic Thailand to amend the laws.
Lese majeste arrests and convictions in Thailand spike during times of instability, when the law is used by political rivals to harass opponents. Both the current government and the main opposition party are calling for tough action against such offenses.