Thai court jails Australian novelist for three years over royal 'insult'
AN AUSTRALIAN writer was sentenced to three years' jail yesterday for insulting Thailand's royal family in a novel.
In a rare conviction of a foreigner that comes amid a crackdown on people and websites deemed critical of the monarchy, Bangkok's criminal court sentenced Harry Nicolaides to six years but reduced the term because he had entered a guilty plea, the judge said.
Nicolaides, 41, from Melbourne, was charged with insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Thailand's crown prince in his 2005 fictional book Verisimilitude, which sold only seven copies.
"This can't be real. It feels like a bad dream," a tearful Nicolaides said after sentence was passed.
"This is an Alice in Wonderland experience. I really believe I am going to wake up and all of you will be gone."
A passage in the book that discussed the personal life of a fictional prince "suggested there was abuse of royal power," the presiding judge told the court.
Thailand's lese-majesty law mandates a penalty of three to 15 years' imprisonment for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent."
The offending passage in Nicolaides's novel was just a few sentences long and described the turbulent marital relations of its fictional prince.
Until recently, prosecutions under the law have been rare in a country where King Bhumibol, a constitutional monarch, is almost universally revered.
But questions about the monarchy have assumed a higher profile lately as consideration is given to the succession of the 81-year-old king, the world's longest-serving head of state and the only monarch most Thais have lived under.
Shackled at the ankles and handcuffed, Nicolaides said he felt "dreadful" as guards escorted him out of the courtroom.
"I would like to apologise," he said, adding that he had "unqualified respect for the king of Thailand" and had not intended to insult him.
The case came amid a recent spate of lese-majesty complaints and prosecutions, and increased censorship of websites allegedly critical of the Thai monarchy.
Nicolaides was arrested on 31 August at Bangkok's international airport as he was about to board a flight home, apparently unaware of a March arrest warrant, according to rights groups. He was indicted in November and denied bail.
Nicolaides lived in Thailand from 2003 to 2005 and has been a frequent visitor to the country. He has described his novel as a commentary on political and social life in contemporary Thailand.
The lines that caused offence
"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."
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