As regular visitors to Cringeville know, I'm a big fan of freedom of speech. The First Amendment is far and away my favorite (though I'm also partial to the 4th, 13th, 15th, and 21st). So I'm especially glad I don't live in Thailand or Kansas, where what you say or do on cellphones and social networks can land you in hot water -- or a prison cell.
Let's take Thailand first. Last week, a retired truck driver was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sending four text messages that were judged insulting to the Thai monarchy. We don't know what messages 61-year-old Ampon Tangnoppakul sent -- in part because the mere act of repeating them would expose reporters to prosecution.
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He alleges he didn't send any messages, he does not even know how to text, and his phone was in the repair shop at the time the texts were sent. No matter -- any treatment deemed less than reverent to 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his bride Queen Sirikit can earn you five years per offense.
It gets worse. If someone else makes a disparaging remark about the King and Queen on Facebook, and you click that ubiquitous Like button, you can plan to spend between 3 and 15 years in a dingy Bangkok dungeon. At least, according to Russian news site RT.com, which claims to be quoting the Thai Minister of Information.
It's good that sort of thing can't happen here, right? Well, allow me to introduce you to Sam Brownback's Kansas. Last week, 18-year-old high school senior Emma Sullivan took part in a Youth in Government field trip to the Kansas state capitol. As a joke to one of her friends, she sent the following tweet:
Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot
Sullivan didn't actually make any comments to Brownback. But that didn't stop school officials from hauling her to the principal's office and demanding that she apologize to the governor.