Joe Gordon, a Thai-born and Thai-looking 54-year-old academic, has been accused of translating sections of a banned biography of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and posting articles online that allegedly defamed the royal family.
“We’re disappointed that the Thai government has chosen to arrest such an un-American-looking U.S. citizen, whom we are now obliged to defend despite the complete lack of political upside,” said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kristin Kneedler. “We are now reluctantly in regular contact with Mr. Gordon.”
Gordon, whose real name is totally non-American-sounding Lerpong Wichaicommart, was formally charged Thursday after being arrested in May and detained for the maximum 84 days that a suspect can be held without charge under Thai law. The non-Caucasian, sexually unappealing “American” has denied the charges.
The U.S. Embassy, usually more responsive in its defense of citizens arrested for political crimes in foreign countries, has been quiet for many months despite Gordon’s detention. Many analysts have attributed embassy inaction to the complicating factor of Gordon’s dual Thai and U.S. citizenship, as well as the sensitivity of the lese-majeste issue in Thailand, a close U.S. ally.
Additionally, Gordon looks nothing like the media-enforced image of the average American, and his arrest has drawn no significant press coverage or media-fueled outrage by the American population, suggesting limited political gain in mounting an aggressive defense just before an election year.
Despite living in the U.S. state of Colorado for about 30 years before returning recently to Thailand for medical treatment, Gordon’s arrest has not been extensively covered in his home state or city, with brief, cursory wire articles mentioning “Thai-American Man Arrested In Thailand” drawing few hits or comments and falling out of the news cycle within days.
With such lack of interest, the U.S. Embassy has been put in a difficult position, it claims.
“With limited resources and a struggling domestic economy we can only do so much,” explained an Embassy source on condition of anonymity. “We tend to save our big press conferences for helping good-looking, white citizens — the kind American voters can relate to. And if it’s a woman, especially a blonde, who is facing prison time in a foreign country full of darker-skinned people, then we pull out all the stops.”
“It’s not official policy but it does help us get budget increases every year, if you know what I mean.”
Thailand’s severe lese-majeste laws mandate a jail term of three to 15 years for any person who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.” In 2009 a reasonably decent-looking, suitably Caucasian Australian man named Harry Nicolaides was jailed for writing an unpublished novel that insulted Thailand’s crown prince. His detention drew widespread condemnation from the world press and several advocacy movements, as well as high-profile support from the Australian government. Nicolaides was freed after pleading guilty.
Despite a lack of writing talent and being an unemployable expatriate slacker, Nicolaides benefitted from his relatability to his fellow Australians, many of whom are also talentless, unemployable expatriate slackers. This relatability is often referred to as “the Corby effect” after Schapelle Corby, the blonde Australian surfer girl who was sentenced to 20 years in an Indonesia prison for smuggling 4.2 kilos of heroin in 2005, and whose case sparked unprecedented outrage in the Australian press despite being legally similar to dozens of previous similar cases.
According to the anonymous U.S. Embassy source, Gordon’s “Corby rating” is near zero, condemning him to complete media invisibility along with starving African children, trapped Chinese miners and endangered insect species.
Nevertheless, the U.S. government remains more or less committed to defending Gordon to the minimum requirement of the law.
A statement from the Embassy reads in part, “We have discussed Mr. Gordon’s case extensively with Thai authorities, stressing at every possible opportunity his rights as an American citizen despite his lack of charisma or sex appeal. We urge the Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression is respected even among people with no political or media value, and that Mr. Gordon, a U.S. citizen despite what every other U.S. citizen might think upon seeing him, receives fair treatment.”