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Thailand pardons US man jailed for royal insult

Narong Sangnak / EPA, file

A Thai-born US citizen Joe Gordon, 55, looks on from inside a cell at the criminal court, in Bangkok, Thailand, 08 December 2011.

A US citizen sentenced to two-and-half years in prison for defaming Thailand's royal family was pardoned and released from jail late Tuesday, US Embassy officials told NBC News.

Thai-born Joe Gordon was convicted in December for translating excerpts of a banned biography of Thailand’s King Bhumibol – the latest in a series of severe sentences imposed for defaming the country’s monarchy.

The 55-year-old, formerly a used car salesman in Colorado, was sentenced to two and a half years for breaking the country’s "lese majeste" laws, which make it illegal to insult the king, queen or crown prince - a highly sensitive issue in a country where 84-year-old king is regarded as semi-divine. 

American jailed in Thailand for insulting monarchy to be released?

Successive governments have ignored international calls to reform the laws, which critics argue is abused to discredit activists and politicians opposed to the royalist establishment. 

No reason for the pardon was immediately given. An update on Gordon’s campaign website said: “Free at last, free at last!  Thank God almighty, Joe is free at last! After over 13 months, Joe Gordon's ordeal is over.”

A U.S. embassy official in Thailand confirmed Gordon’s release to NBC News.

The BBC reported that Washington has pressed Thai authorities to release him since he was arrested in May 2011. The report said an editor of a political website was given an eight-month suspended sentence in May for failing to remove comments deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Alastair Jamieson, msnbc.com, contributed to this report.

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