An Australian author, English language teacher and some-time resident of Thailand, Harry Nicolaides was sentenced to six years in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty) for defaming the crown prince in his 2005 novel, ‘Verisimilitude’. Read Nicolaides’ novel here. This scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand. The BBC has reported that the book remains on the open shelves in that library. Only seven copies of the book were distributed. The Australian government was remarkably quiet on this case and, based on reports to PPT, has not responded to many of those who sent concerned letters regarding this case to the prime minister and minister for foreign affairs.
The words in the book that are reported to have brought the charges are: “ From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.”
The BBC report already cited points out that the judge in the case took these words, from a fictional account, to refer to real figures, concluding that Nicolaides “… has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy.” The Times of London reports that three years is the minimum sentence for lèse-majesté.
Nicolaides received a pardon on 18 February 2009, and was deported to Australia. There are numerous reports on this. The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 2009: “Jailed author back on Australian soil”, reports that Nicolaides thanked the Australian people for their support and the media for helping to get him released. Other stories appear in The Australian, 21 February 2009: “Author freed from Thai jail” and at CNN, 20 February 2009: “Author jailed for insulting Thai king freed”. The ABC News, 21 February 2009: “Tearful reunion as Nicolaides returns to Melbourne”, also has the story of his arrival back in Australia. Nicolaides stated that he “was told to kneel before a picture of the Thai king and was granted a pardon just hours before his flight.”
His lawyer claims that the “Australian Government and the Thai Government have been working together very closely on the resolution of Harry’s case,” adding that “The various steps that had to be taken in Thailand were expedited in this case, resulting in the King being able to grant the pardon last Thursday.” In a later report at ABC News, 21 February 2009: “Nicolaides praises Govt over prison release efforts”, Nicolaides states that he is “happy with the way the Australian Government handled his release.” He says that he remains angry about his ordeal: “I am angry, I am frustrated, I am perplexed,” he said. Interestingly, his interviews shown on video clips here and here suggest that Nicolaides was more concerned to express his gratitude to the Australian media and the Australian people for keeping pressure on the Australian government. This seems closer to earlier reports of a reluctant Australian government.
In the same report, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith stated,”We believe that we did everything that we could.” Seemingly unaware of the similar cases in the past, the Australian minister said, “I welcome the fact that so soon after his pardon he has returned to his family and Australia.” He added, “I think it is a measure of the good relationship between Australia and Thailand that the pardon was granted by the King of Thailand on Wednesday, the paperwork was completed on Friday and less than a day later, with the assistance of the Thai authorities, he was returned to Australia.” According to Welt Online, 21 February 2009: “Australian author freed under Thai royal pardon”, the Australia’s foreign ministry “said Canberra appreciated the ‘expeditious handling of the pardon’ by the Thai authorities.”
Despite this diplomatic pandering, the fact remains that the Nicolaides case took such an unusually long time to be concluded. Why was an unknown Australian kept in jail for so long for a short comment in a book that almost no one had read?
The BBC, 21 February 2009: “Thailand frees Australian writer”, carries a report and a brief video, where Nicolaides states that he hopes to go back to Thailand and that he hopes that “no other Australian has to go through the ordeal that I endured for the last five and a half months.” Al Jazerra carries a report, 21 February 2009: “Thailand frees Australian writer”. The Bangkok Post, 21 February 2009: “King pardons jailed writer”, reproduces an AFP report on the release and The Nation also carries a report.
Harry has now published one account of his incarceration (see The Monthly, below).
Commentary on Harry’s case:
The Monthly (April 2009: “The King & I: Life in a Bangkok Prison”), an Australian magazine, has published an account by Harry on his arrest and time in jail. The link to the article is to a 1500 word preview of a 5,700 word essay.
Manningham Leader,11 March 2009: “Political reasons behind time in Thai prison hell – our exclusive interview with Harry Nicolaides”
Eureka Street, 27 February 2009: “Nicolaides free, but writers’ persecution persists”
Eureka Street, 25 February 2009: “Degrees of guilt in Nicolaides’ Thai insult case”
Andrew Walker, from the Australian National University, comments on the Nicolaides case and broader rights issues in Thailand: Sydney Morning Herald, 24 January 2009: “Rights Abuse? You Wouldn’t Read About It”
Nian Dong, a media student at Australia’s Melbourne University has made a case for Nicolaides being considered a political prisoner, writing in Melbourne’s The Age, 19 December 2008: “Shameful case of forgotten political prisoner”.
C.J. Hinke of Freedom Against Censorship Thailand has a long commentary and an extensive list of links. See “Thailand’s latest political prisoner: Harry Nicolaides”
A website was established calling for the release of Harry Nicolaides — visit the site here Bring Harry Home.
News on Harry Nicolaides’ case:
The Age, 23 February 2009: “Critic of jailed author questioned”
Neos Kosmos, 22 February 2009: “Harry’s Back! Harry Nicolaides speaks to Neos Kosmos about his seven month ordeal in a Thai jail”
The Canberra Times, 22 February 2009: “Grateful author home”
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 February 2009: “Author pardoned after months of hell in Thai jail”
The Huffington Post, 21 February 2009: “We brought Harry home”
Reporters Without Borders, 21 February 2009: “Immense relief after Harry Nicolaides is pardoned andflies home”
WA Today, 21 February 2009: “Freed author to write of jail hell”
NineMSN, 21 February 2009: “Pardoned author back after Thai ordeal”
newmatilda.com, 20 February 2009: “Less Majesty, More Justice”
The New Statesman, 19 February 2009: “Greeks rally to free Harry”
Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February 2009: “Australian sceptical over call for pardon”
Prachatai, 16 February 2009: “Australian jailed for insulting Thai monarchy may receive royal pardon”
The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2009, “Jailed Australian writer Harry Nicolaides kept in ‘medieval’ cell”.
The Sunday Times, 1 February 2009: “A Life in the Day: Harry Nicolaides”
ABC Radio Australia, 23 January 2009, “Australia officially requests Thailand lese majeste pardon”
The Economist, 22 January 2009, “The Trouble with Harry” (not distributed in Thailand)
Bloomberg, 22 January 2009, “Australia Asks Thailand to Pardon Writer Jailed for King Insult”
Melbourne Herald Sun, 21 January 2009, “Official letter asks for Aussie’s pardon”
World News Australia (SBS), 20 January 2009: “Jailed author’s family blames Rudd”
The Times of London, 20 January 2009, “Australian novelist Harry Nicolaides jailed for insulting Thai king”
NY Times, 20 January 2009, “Novelist Given 3 Years for Insulting Thai King”
Forde Nicolaides at New Mandala, 19 January 2009: “Statement on Harry Nicolaides”
BBC News, 19 January 2009, “Writer Jailed for Thai Insult”
PEN American Center, 20 January 2009, “Writer sentenced for insulting the monarchy”
Huffington Post, 19 January 2009, “Australian, Harry Nicolaides, Sentenced for Insulting Thai Monarchy,”
Reporters Without Borders, 19 January 2009, “In major free speech violation, Australian writer gets three years in prison for lese majeste”
Bangkok Pundit, 16 November 2008, “Harry Nicolaides: A Political Prisoner?”