harry nicolaides, harry nicolaides sentenced, harry nicolaides Verisimilitude
Apichart Weerawong/AP
Australian writer Harry Nicolaides listens
to a journalist's question from a criminal
court cell while waiting to hear charges in
Bangkok, Thailand Jan. 19, 2009.

Australian Author Harry Nicolaides Jailed for Insulting Thai Royalty

January 20, 2009 09:44 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in Thai jail for insulting the Thai royal family in the latest scandal tied to the country’s controversial lèse majesté law.

A Nightmare Unfolds

Harry Nicolaides, 41, pleaded guilty to opposing Thailand’s royal family in his novel “Verisimilitude,” which only sold “a handful of copies,” his family told Agence France-Presse. Nicolaides, who was advised to plead guilty for a lesser sentence, could have faced 15 years behind bars otherwise. His Melbourne-based lawyer Mark Dean said he “would immediately appeal for a royal pardon.”

Nicolaides has worked as a lecturer at a northern Thai university, and was detained in the departure lounge of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Aug. 31, 2009 but was unaware at the time that a warrant had been issued for his arrest two and a half years prior, AFP reported.

In a video filmed before the sentencing and posted on BBC News, Nicolaides was visibly distraught, telling reporters the entire experience felt like a nightmare.

His case echoes the Thai government’s ruling earlier this month to block 2,300 Web sites considered insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as the state firings of two newspaper editors in Vietnam. Thai officials also said they planned to establish a 24-hour facility devoted to Internet monitoring to ensure that violations against the royal family do not go unnoticed.

Background: Lèse majesté laws

Nicolaides was arrested on August 31, 2008 on lèse majesté charges “for publishing a novel deemed defamatory to the country’s royal family,” according to Reuters. The warrant was issued for Nicolaides’ arrest in March 2008, Thai Police Lieutenant-Colonel Boonlert Kalayanamit told Reuters.

Bangkok-based social activist Sulak Sivaraksa told Al-Jazeera, “The lèse majesté laws have mostly been used by politicians to get rid of or to silence the opposition” but at the same time, Thais privately critical of the laws often lack “the courage to speak up openly about changing it,” he said.

Many free speech activists, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself, have called the laws “outdated” and not in line with a democracy. Thai academic Giles Ungpakorn, who faces lèse majesté charges, told Al-Jazeera the law is more “about certain groups trying to protect their privilege and their power” than it is about “protecting the monarchy.”

Opinion & Analysis: Lèse majesté and freedom of speech

Critics have been outspoken, to a certain extent, regarding Thailand’s invasion of international standards of free speech. But “[t]he Thai public is unable to judge the merits of these supposed offences because the press cannot explain them properly without being accused of repeating the crime,” laments an editorial in The Economist.

The New Mandela blog concurs. “In Thailand, it is even hard to report the details of a lèse majesté charge without fear of sanction,” write bloggers Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly. Furthermore, “Detailed reporting runs the risk of repeating the offence. Self-censorship reigns. So Harry Nicolaides will be unlikely to ever see substantial details about his case published in the Thai media,” the duo assert.

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