Harry Nicolaides deported

21 02 2009

harrymain2-200x0Harry Nicolaides (left, with his father) has returned to Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 2009: “Jailed author back on Australian soil”, reports that King Bhumibol Adulyadej issued a royal decree on Wednesday, after 6 months in prison for a few lines in a book that referred to an unnamed crown prince. He thanked the Australian people for their support and the media for helping to get him released. He went to hospital to visit his mother who had suffered a stroke two weeks earlier. This report also includes video of his arrival in Melbourne. 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”, with earlier video.

The ABC News, 21 February 2009: “Tearful reunion as Nicolaides returns to Melbourne”, also has the story of his arrival. This report states that Nicolaides said he “learned only a few minutes before boarding my flight that my mother has suffered a stroke.” In Thailand, he “says 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.

It seems unlikely that the Australian government will comment further on lèse majesté. In the ABC News report, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, who did not respond to some of his mail on the Nicolaides case,  said he was pleased by the decision to release Nicolaides, adding,”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 adds, “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?

Nicolaides’ lawyer has some commentary on this in The Canberra Times, 21 February 2009: “Escape from hell”, when he claims that Harry was a “political prisoner, and that the reasons for the commencement of this case against him were inextricably linked to the political crisis in Thailand in August 2008.” He adds: “But since then, conditions have changed in Thailand, there has been a change of government, and the current Thai Government has done everything it can to support Harry’s case.” This is interesting when it is considered that the current Democrat-led government has pushed for increased censorship (here also), has cracked down, called for heavier penalties for lèse majesté and for an acceleration of the existing cases.

Hopefully, the release of Nicolaides marks a change in attitude and response to the political use of lèse majesté and that the Democrat Party displays a more liberal political orientation.

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 short report.

Few of the reports on the release of Nicolaides make any comment on the many others, mostly Thais, who are held and accused under this draconian law.