Welcome to Global Jurisdiction

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

A U.S. citizen has been arrested in Thailand for insulting the Thai king on the Internet. Each alleged defamations carrries a sentence of 3-15 years in prison.

This is obviously terrible, and I hope the guy is released. But the premise here is no different than when the U.S. government arrests the executives of online gambling sites at U.S. airports and charges them under U.S. law, despite the fact that online gambling is perfectly legal in the countries where they’re citizens and where their companies are incorporated.

We set a pretty nasty precedent here. I don’t see how the U.S. government has much moral standing to demand this guy’s release.

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26 Responses to “Welcome to Global Jurisdiction”

  1. #1 |  SJE | 

    or arrests for defamation in England, or insulting the prophet in many Muslim nations….

  2. #2 |  Jim | 

    He’s Thai-born, according to the article. Does that make him a Thai citizen and subject to the laws of that land as well?

  3. #3 |  c andrew | 

    Per wikipedia:

    Bhumibol was born at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States on 5 December 1927.[17] He was the younger son of HRH Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and Mom Sangwal (later HRH Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother: Somdej Phra Sri Nakarindhara Boromaratchachonnani). His name, Bhumibol Adulyadej, means “Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power”.[18]

    IT would appear that the king of Thailand is an American Citizen. Maybe we can try him in our courts, thereby.

    Does anyone remember in the 1990’s that William Gibson had to avoid flying anywhere close to Singapore because the regime there had vowed to try him for the portrayal of Singapore as “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” they considered disrespectful?

    And of course, there is the Pinochet incident in Spain.

    Isn’t this the definition of “extra-territoriality?”

  4. #4 |  Tommygunangels | 

    To my understanding, the law has, up until this recent case, only been applied to people who broke the law while inside Thailand.

    A professor at my university, who is Thai citizen and a noted scholar on Thai history, sometimes gives lectures that include criticism of the king and the royal family. Some Thai students, who were offended by his comments, contacted the Thai consulate in Washington to see if he could be charged for lese majeste. The consulate responded that he could not be charged because the law only applies to comments made while in Thailand.

    Needless to say, this expansion of jurisdiction is frightening, especially for someone like me, who wishes to study in Thailand in the near future.

  5. #5 |  Mattocracy | 

    Yeah but it’s different when other countries do the bad things we do. Cause America is exceptional. The Thai are, well obviously their heathens who don’t respect free speech. And no body better say anything about the US not respecting the first amendment, or we’ll arrest you too.

  6. #6 |  johnl | 

    Hell with the precedent we set with Marc Emery, Thailand should have been asking for us to arrest him in the States.

  7. #7 |  JS | 

    I read something a while back about a legal concept called universal jurisdiction, and yea, it’s going to lead to a nightmare. I’m not a lawyer or anything but it seems like when Daddy Bush arrested Manuel Noriega was when it all kind of kicked off but I may be wrong about that. It’s a double edged sward though because an Italian court convicted and sentenced 23 CIA officers to prison and I read an interview with one and she was pissed because she could no longer go to Europe. She was hoping the US government would oressure Italy into the law not applying to them of course. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/dec/15/italy-appeals-court-ups-us-sentences-in-cia-trial/

    Also the whole concept is challenged by someone like Julian Assange, who the US government would love to have in one of their cages. His case seems to present a big challenge to authorities who would love to use the hammer of the law to get rid of people they don’t like.

  8. #8 |  FridayNext | 

    JS: Maybe I am misunderstanding something, but the case of the CIA agents in Italy are totally different. A)The crimes occurred in Italy and B)The agents were, in fact, agents of our government. This is different than a private citizen of one country being arrested in a second country for acts committed in his/her home country that were legal there. (or not. The legality in the home country strikes me as irrelevant unless the citizen is arrested for extradition back)

    Those CIA agents committed their alleged crimes in Italy. Italy can arrest and try them. I see nothing wrong with that.

  9. #9 |  JS | 

    Yea I personally think its a positive thing that the CIA agents were charged and convicted. I guess I just meant that the whole idea of universal jurisdiction is scary and if the US government thinks it will be the only one allowed to try and convict foreigners then it will find out that other countries will use that same excuse to try and convict agents of the US government.

    And yea, its definitely different with agents of a government than with private citizens. I don’t know, it just seems like the idea of soveriegn nations is undermined when a judge in another country can trump up some reason to convict a foreigner. Like the whole Julian Assange thing. To me its pretty clear cut-he is not an American and is not or at least should not be under any obligation to obey American laws. But it seems like our government is trying to pioneer some way to place everyone under their legal jurisdiction. That’s frightening to me.

  10. #10 |  Peter Moskos | 

    As an American, I find Thai’s lèse-majesté (insulting the king) laws bizarre to say the least.

    But what’s interesting is they way these things play out. The Thai King, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, blessed be his name (hell, I don’t want to get arrested the next time I’m there!) has said he hates these laws. He just can’t stand them. If it were were up to him, he’d strike them from the books. He just wants to take pictures and play with his dogs (he is an avid photographer and dog lover). The problem is that the Thai people, because they love him so much, simply insist on these laws. And what can he do? He’s just the King; he doesn’t make the laws.

    So what this king does is pardon the offenders. It’s the least he can do.

  11. #11 |  albatross | 

    I think there are several different meanings of universal jurisdiction floating around here:

    a. A US citizen without diplomatic immunity commits a crime in Italy and is charged with it in Italy. This is the way the laws normally work just about everywhere. Those CIA agents probably can’t ever go back to Europe, for fear of being arrested and sent off to Italy. (If you commit the crime while you have diplomatic immunity, then sooner or later the local authorities have to send you home, though they’ll probably make it clear you’re not ever welcome back.)

    b. A US citizen does something in the US which is illegal in Thailand (defames the king), and this becomes known to the Thai authorities. He then travels to Thailand, where he is arrested. (Even worse, the Thai authorities could send someone to the US to kidnap him and bring him back to Thailand for trial.)

    c. A US citizen commits crimes according to international law, for example by running a program of torturing prisoners. A court in Spain charges him with crimes against humanity based on international law. (This is the sort of thing that probably makes John Yoo and Doug Feith avoid European vacation plans.)


  12. #12 |  JS | 

    Good summing it all up there albatross!

    The key in your last example though is that at least the US citizen who is wanted in Spain has the option of keeping out of Spain. If the US government has their way Julian Assange won’t have the option of staying out of the US.

  13. #13 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #3:

    I’ve always believed that Bhumibol Adulyadej could have been the Asian John Kerry.

    Incidentally, according to the Economist the King has become disgusted recently with the manner in which lese majeste accusations are being used by politicians to take pot shots at opponents. In at least one case in which there had been no appeal for royal clemency, he privately told a prosecutor to drop charges.

  14. #14 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Radley, you’re right that we’ve lost our moral authority to tell other governments not to maliciously prosecute our citizens for non-crimes. We need to regain it by showing some discretion by making our own prosecutors exercise some discretion and restraint.

    In a related vein, we really need to abrogate our extradition treaty with Japan. The Japanese criminal courts and prisons are a travesty.

  15. #15 |  Marty | 

    #6- made me think of marc emory, also. what a mess.

  16. #16 |  Robert | 

    The King is a Fink!

  17. #17 |  PeeDub | 

    The Lone Harranger!

  18. #18 |  Davis | 

    It’s impossible to tell from the article you linked, but this may not be an assertion of universal jurisdiction. Rather, this may be another instance of courts struggling to figure out how to deal with the question of jurisdiction for conduct that occurs online (and relatedly, where such conduct occurred). Even U.S. courts have frequently come to ridiculous conclusions on jurisdiction over Internet-centered claims — probably because most judges are from a generation that did not grow up with the Internet.

  19. #19 |  John | 

    moral standing or not, the US can’t just give up and not demand his release. Just because the US as a nation has done and is doing bad things doesn’t mean that it should condone its citizens arrested on foreign soil for ridiculous things. Maybe the UK should have put up more of a fight as well.

  20. #20 |  Oscar | 

    I think it will become more and more common for governments around the world to take the position that something that’s made available on the web is something “domestic” and therefore subject to their jurisdiction. The U.S., with its actions against foreign online gambling sites, has unfortunately given all these governments the green light to go ahead and assert local jurisdiction over the web. And they’ve also given ammunition to those people who advocate having the U.N. or some other international body regulate the web. It’s a mess and a good example of how governments can muck something up for the sake of scoring some short-term political points.

  21. #21 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Yet no seems to see that this a is another reason to eliminate ALL government. Anarchy-without leaders just like government now,but much less expensive.

  22. #22 |  Andrew Roth | 

    It occurs to me that lese majeste prosecutions are the Thai equivalent of the selective prosecution and imprisonment of Russian oligarchs for corruption when they cross Putin and his cronies. The difference is that the Russian prosecutions are directed from on high by Tsar Vladimir, while the Thai cases are lodged by relatively low-level politicians and activists who have earned the head of state’s quiet disgust by dragging him into the fray of embarrassing miscarriages of justice.

    Also, since the King is as Yankee-born and Swiss-educated as John Kerry, I’d put up with Bhumibol birtherism in order to have him serve as President. He’s one of the few who wouldn’t treat his pardon powers as a joke to be wasted on turkeys and the deceased.

  23. #23 |  Donald | 

    I have no need to go to Thailand so I’m secure in saying the king touches boys in their special spot.

  24. #24 |  Bill Poser | 

    The US may have no complaint on jurisdictional grounds, but it does have a complaint on the grounds that the Thai law violates standards of freedom of speech to which the US does adhere.

  25. #25 |  Saturday Links | The Agitator | 

    […] Thailand’s king on the Internet. The State Department is outraged, and rightly so. But as I’ve pointed out before, it’s no different than our arrest and imprisonment of online gambling executives. Digg […]

  26. #26 |  Bergman | 

    Re: derfel cadarn, #21:

    Pure anarchies only last so long as every member is a dedicated anarchist. Sooner or later, given the way human nature works, you’ll get someone who wants to be a leader, and sooner or later the leader will attract people who WANT to be told what to do. Then you suddenly have a warlord with an army.

    Yeah, an ad hoc citizen’s group might spontaneously form to topple him then break apart after. But you can’t rely on that, humans form tribes and nothing else cements a tribe together like combat. So there’s a fair chance that it would just replace one warlord & army with a different one. That sort of thing is how the feudal monarchies got their start.

    Anarchies and pure democracies are both fragile. So long as every citizen is well-educated and devoted to the principles of the system, they work. The instant a minority willing to stand together as a group rather than individuals forms though, that fragile system tends to shatter.