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Thailand: Australian writer jailed for lese majeste

Australian writer Harry Nicolaides was given a three year prison sentence for lese majeste in Bangkok on Monday. He was charged with the offense of offending the monarchy for a passage in a book he published in 2005 titled Verisimilitude. Only 50 copies of the book were ever printed and seven copies sold. The book contains a paragraph referring to a “Crown Prince”. The offending text is now being quoted on a variety of sites and some sites have even made a pdf copy of the book available for download.

Harry was arrested in Thailand in August and was held in prison until his trial on Monday. He pleaded guilty to the charge in order to get a lighter sentence. New Mandala, a blog which has covered Harry's case in detail, published a statement from Harry's brother. He wrote:

My family is extremely distressed with the outcome and we will now do all that we can to ensure that Harry remains strong, healthy and positive in the circumstances. Harry does not intend to appeal the decision but rather wishes to focus efforts on considering an application for Royal Pardon.

Some Australian blogs expressed their concern for Harry and the hope that he can get assistance from the Australian government. Andrew Walker at New Mandala said pressure is building on the Australian government. A roll of the dice wrote:

In the end it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if he is a good writer or not, it doesn’t matter what kind of guy he is, it doesn’t even matter whether he deliberately or recklessly got himself into this mess.  What matters at the moment is that a man is in prison for nothing more than exercising free speech and making a poor choice of travel destination, and at the moment he seems to be getting less help from our government than a certain group of convicted drug traffickers in Indonesia.

Robert Merkel at Lavartus Prodeo wrote that he wondered why a pardon wasn't granted.

Leaving aside the broader goal of convincing the Thai government to abandon its lese majeste laws (Thailand has more pressing governance problems at the moment), surely the realpolitik approach to getting Nicolaides out of jail was a deal where, first, he was let out on bail. Then, a quick guilty plea should have led to an equally quick royal pardon and an even quicker deportation; the Thais keep face and Nicolaides gets to work on his writing in some other location with more hospitable laws. But that didn’t happen. And I’m still left wondering why it didn’t.

Some others were not quite as sympathetic. Richard Barrow at Thai Blogs said people should know and respect the law in Thailand.

Although I feel sorry for the guy, it is hard to believe that a teacher and a writer could know so little about the culture of Thailand. If you check any “Do's and Dont's” list for Thailand, you will always see mention of this: “Do not insult the monarchy”. In fact, most books go on to say that you should avoid any discussion of the monarchy which could be seen as criticism. In Thailand, lese-majeste is a serious offence.

Harry Clarke, a former resident of Thailand, also expressed a similar point of view.

Generally I am puzzled at what has occurred as Nicolaides has worked in Thailand since around 2003 – he should clearly have understood the reverence and respect Thais place on their monarchy.  I find it difficult to believe his claim that he didn't understand the law since any foreigner working in the country finds about about this very quickly.

Harry is not the only foreigner facing lese majeste charges in Thailand. Therion writes:

Harry Nicolaides isn't the first westerner to fall foul of lèse majesté laws in Thailand.

New York based Committee to Protect Journalists has come to the defense of BBC journalist, Jonathan Head, who has been accused of slandering Thailand's 81 year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

And Thai academic Giles Ji Ungphakorn is also facing lese majeste charges over a book he wrote titled A Coup for the Rich. Ungphakorn has his own blog where he is showing that he is unafraid to speak out. He has written a statement detailing the problems of the lese majeste law and his reasons for fighting against the charge.

The Lese Majeste Law in Thailand does not allow the for the proper functioning of a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy, since it restricts freedom of speech and expression and does not allow for public accountability and transparency of the institution of the Monarchy.

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