US citizen pleads guilty to insulting Thai royals

BANGKOK - A US citizen pleaded guilty in a Thai court on Monday to charges of insulting the monarchy, an offence in theory punishable by up to 15 years in prison under controversial lese majeste laws.

Thai-born Joe Wichai Commart Gordon was arrested in May during a holiday in the kingdom and accused of posting a link to a translation of a banned book on his blog, along with other material deemed offensive, while living in the US.

"I do not want to fight this case. I plead guilty to all the accusations," the 55-year-old car salesman, who has lived in Colorado for more than two decades, told Bangkok's Criminal Court.

His lawyer Arnon Nampa said he hoped Gordon would receive the most lenient potential sentence of three years and that the guilty plea would then see his prison term halved. He is also hoping for a royal pardon.

Gordon will be sentenced on November 9.

In August the US embassy in Bangkok has said it was "disappointed" with the decision to prosecute in a statement that called on Thailand to "ensure freedom of expression is respected".

Shortly before the court hearing began, Gordon urged the US to "do everything in its power to protect American citizens" and explained his intention to plead guilty.

"In this kind of case there is no chance of winning," he told AFP, adding that he hoped to be back home in the US soon.

Arnon said his client had posted the translation of an unauthorised biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his blog, but he thought it was an academic text and not insulting to the monarchy.

Thailand's royals are an extremely sensitive subject in the politically divided country.

King Adulyadej, 83, the world's longest-reigning monarch and revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been in hospital since September 2009.

Under Thai legislation, anybody convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

Academics have noted a sharp increase of new royal insult cases in recent years and rights groups have expressed concern that the law was used to suppress freedom of expression under the previous government.