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Cheer Up, Mark Halperin, At Least You Don't Live In Thailand!

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Political pap-pusher Mark Halperin has been suspended indefinitely from the top of 30 Rock by his belt loops appearing on MSNBC, after he capped off a frothy conversation on the "Morning Joe Ideas Festival" by calling President Barack Obama "kind of a dick." Presumably he will be stuck discussing who "won the week" with his houseplants and other inert life forms, like Time Magazine readers.

But over at Foreign Policy, Joshua Keating points out how fortunate Halperin is, because in a lot of other nations, Halperin might have been suspended indefinitely from his liberty:

In Iran, a prominent journalist was recently sentenced to 16 months in prison for calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a megalomaniac. In pre-revolutionary Egypt, you could go to jail for four years for insulting Hosni Mubarak. It was even a jailable offence to insult foreign heads of state, as the late author Idris Ali learned when he wrote a novel critical of Muammar al-Qaddafi. In Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, you can be arrested just for sending an email with pictures of the president's mansion. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has also used laws against insulting the president to silence his critics in the media.

Keating also brings up the example of Thailand, which has "some of the world's harshest lesè majesté laws." This cannot be understated enough. You can run afoul of the Thai authorities in myriad ways. There's the Swiss guy who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for getting drunk and spray-painting over portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Chiang Mai. There's the French guy who was detained in Bangkok after he insulted a Thai princess on an airplane over a reading light. There's the Thai-themed lounge in Philadelphia that -- after putting out an advertisement depicting Bhumibol as a hipster -- caused such a row that "Thai diplomats in the United States became enraged" and "threatened to stop issuing visas to Americans and to get the Thai military involved."

That's right, Thailand takes it deadly serious and they extend a long reach, employing volunteer "cyber scouts" to scour the web, looking for anyone making fun of Thai royalty. Keating cites the example of a U.S. citizen of Thai descent who was arrested for posting a link to the book "The King Never Sleeps" -- a title that has run afoul of Thai authorities -- on his blog.

(Hmmmmm. Now that I mention it, I just want to state for the record that these laws are absolutely appropriate and just, and that anyone who dares insult King Bhumibol should be visited with a thousand plagues, with no less than three hundred of those plagues being some variation on "spontaneous gastric release." Blessings upon King Bhumibol, may he reign forever!)

At any rate, Mark Halperin is quite fortunate that in America, the consequences for being impolite are only slightly more dire than the consequences for being Mark Halperin.

Go read the whole thing: "Countries where you could go to jail for calling the president a dick" [Foreign Policy]

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