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American jailed in Thailand for insulting monarchy to be released?


Thai-born US citizen Joe Gordon, 55, is escorted by Thai prison officials as he arrives for his trial accused of lese majeste charges at criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, on 8 December 2011.

BANGKOK, Thailand -  A U.S. citizen jailed in Thailand after admitting that he disseminated information on the Internet that insulted the monarchy is being considered for royal pardon, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Justice has approved a pardon for Lerpong Wichaikhammat, a Thai-born U.S. citizen known as Joe Gordon, and it has been forwarded to the Bureau of the Royal Household, his lawyer, Anon Numpa, told Reuters. 

Wichaikhammat was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail in December 2011.  

'Witch hunt'? Thailand cracks down on king's online critics

Successive governments have ignored international calls to reform the lese-majeste laws -- which make it illegal to insult the king, queen or crown prince -- is a highly sensitive issue in a country where 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is regarded as semi-divine. 

The laws are increasingly questioned in Thailand itself, with some critics arguing the legislation is abused to discredit activists and politicians opposed to the royalist establishment. 

Anon announced that another client, who was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of sending  text messages disrespectful to Queen Sirikit has died in jail a few months into his sentence.  

Thais divided by anti-free speech crackdown

The case last November of Amphon Tangnoppaku, 61, who the media nicknamed "Uncle SMS", had stoked a debate about the harsh sentences imposed in Thailand for lese-majeste. 

"Uncle was admitted to the prison's infirmary unit after experiencing severe stomach pains since Friday," Amphon's lawyer, Anon Numpa, told Reuters. "We haven't found out the cause of death yet but he had been battling cancer." 

During his trial, Amphon had denied sending the SMS messages to a government official, saying he did not even know how to send such messages from his mobile telephone.ce and said it supported freedom of expression in Thailand as elsewhere in the world. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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