Skip to main content

Prachatai has monitored the case closely, writing that "the Thai-born American citizen was arrested by the Department of Special Investigation in late May this year for allegedly translating the banned book ‘The King Never Smiles’ and placing links to download the translation on the internet, violating the lèse majesté law and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act."

A political prisoner, no question; and a U.S. citizen, no less. A used car salesman from Boulder, Colorado. By international standards, the charges are conspicuously political as they are innocuous.

The irony stretches from Bangkok to Washington, that, privately, so many will 'confess' to the charge. Ownership of a book that most all Bangkok's brood of journalists, activists and scholars keep, awkwardly stacked on bookshelves away from the prying eyes of the state. Those who know the book's premise, its chapters and verse and most controversial revelations, even the supposedly secret sources from which much of the material is drawn. There are, I am told, multiple copies available online. The book comes in  conversation - not all agree with its conclusions. It is the sole biography of Thailand's King Bhumibol, twelve years in the making, widely-researched and deftly told. The King Never Smiles. Most all go by the acronym TKNS, or, online, where censors troll, that book by Mr. Handley.


"I had some journalists over at my place, for an interview," one high-profile advocate noted, earlier this year. "Then I realized I had TKNS on my shelf. I threw it under the bed, quickly, before they saw it. "Otherwise I would've been on tape with it in the background. That would've been…" 
He needn't finish. Anyone can file a police complaint of lèse-majesté on the King’s behalf, and the penalty is up to 15 years in jail.
I catch up with the same advocate, weeks later. Conversation inevitably turn to lèse-majesté, and I ask about Joe.
"We can't take up his case without knowing if he's as pure as the driven snow," he says. "If there's anything that he's done - and translating The King Never Smiles, for one - oh, and his links to the red shirt movement - then we're going to need someone else. We're talking - someone like Aun Sung Suu Kyi?… 'Da Torpedo' (Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul) could be one, maybe - but then, she went so crazy on the red-shirt stages. But still, there's plenty of cases we've not heard about. You know anyone that might fit the bill?" 
We talk of free expression, and yet, somehow, I'm speechless.
In August, my phone rings, from Washington. It's late in Bangkok. We've pre-booked the call, an update from the in-field journalist to the U.S. human rights institute/think-tank/policy advocate/advocate for free expression.
It's not what I expected. "I've read, that he's a U.S. citizen?" Yes. "And he's supposed to have translated a book?" No - he's accused of offering a hyperlink to a downloaded, Thai-version of a book banned in Thailand. It's said to have taken place on U.S. soil. "Really? Are there articles that you can send me?" Yes - it's all on record. Have you visited"Where is his wife and family?… How old is he?" No kids. His wife is dead. He's 52. It's in the articles… "Are there other cases that you think might be… better, to highlight in the media? I mean, there's that 'Da Torpedo' lady, but Joe's American." Sorry, I'm media - not media advisory. "Okay. I can tell you that his case is very much on the State Department's radar. We'll keep monitoring it, and do our best."
As Joe Gordon is sentenced, he'll come to rely solely on a royal pardon to ensure his release. Meanwhile, Joe Gordon speaks of the pursuits - those, so American, so tidily premised - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Messages to the outside, reported on Prachatai, blogged by his own lawyer, scrawled in letters to his PresidentMonths earlier, he'd felt that the presumption and maintenance his innocence, so to the support of the public, might well be enough. Not, it seems, in cases of lèse-majesté.
Prachatai English's Logo

Prachatai English is an independent, non-profit news outlet committed to covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite pressure from the authorities. Your support will ensure that we stay a professional media source and be able to meet the challenges and deliver in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”