HONG KONG -- An American imprisoned in Thailand for insulting the king has been released after being granted a royal pardon, the man's lawyer and a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Wednesday.
The American, Joe Gordon, left Remand Prison in Bangkok late Tuesday, according to his lawyer, Anon Numpa, who said King Bhumibol Adulyadej approved the pardon Monday. Mr. Numpa said his client was likely to return to the United States but gave no time frame.
"We are pleased that the king of Thailand granted this pardon," said Walter Braunohler, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
Mr. Gordon was sentenced to two and a half years in prison last December after being convicted of translating and posting online portions of a book, "The King Never Smiles," that is banned in Thailand. In the book, a biography of King Bhumibol, the author Paul M. Handley accuses the king of consolidating royal power during his reign and slowing the development of democracy in Thailand.
Mr. Gordon, 56, was born in Thailand -- his Thai name is Lerpong Wichaicommart -- but he had lived in the United States for the past three decades prior to his arrest in May of last year during a visit to his hometown in Thailand. He was living in the United States when he put portions of the book on the Web.
Mr. Gordon's case is the latest that puts a spotlight on the country's lèse-majesté laws, which forbid defaming members of the Thai royal family. In January 2009, an Australian writer was sentenced to three years in prison for insulting the Thai monarchy in a self-published novel but was granted a royal pardon the following month.
In May this year, a Thai woman who manages an Internet message board was given a one-year suspended prison sentence for comments posted by users that insulted the Thai royal family. The case drew criticism from Google, which expressed concern that the ruling against the woman, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, represented a serious threat to the Internet in Thailand.
Reporters Without Borders, an organization based in France that advocates media rights, ranked Thailand at 137th in its 2011-12 press freedom index. By comparison, it ranked the United States at 47th place.
Mr. Braunohler of the U.S. Embassy said U.S. officials in Washington and Bangkok had been urging Thailand to ensure that freedom of expression was protected in the country. Mr. Gordon's case has been a part of those discussions the past 14 months, he said.
Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting from Bangkok.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.