Aussie writer jailed three years for insulting Thai king

Harry Nicolaides, who criticised the king of Thailand in his book "Verisimilitude", was sentenced to three years in jail in Thailand for insulting the royal family. The Australian writer has been in prison since August.


AFP - A Thai court on Monday jailed an Australian writer for three years for insulting the royal family in a novel, the latest case to highlight the strict laws protecting the country's revered monarchy.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, arrived in a Bangkok court wearing a dark orange prison jumpsuit with his feet shackled and pleaded guilty to the charges related to a passage in a book he self-published in 2005.

"He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince of Thailand and the monarchy," the judge told the court.

"He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years," the judge said.

A gaunt-looking Nicolaides -- who has already been in custody for nearly five months -- told reporters as he left the court after sentencing that he felt "dreadful", adding: "I wish my family the best."

His lawyer and relatives said he will seek a royal pardon for the sentence, with Nicolaides' brother, Forde, describing the family as devastated.

"It is not Harry's intention to appeal, but he is considering a pardon application, which can occur through a mechanism directly with the palace," Forde Nicolaides told the Australian Associated Press from Melbourne.

"We're devastated. You might be able to hear my mother crying in the background," he said.

"It's quite devastating for us. The whole case has been a massive emotional ordeal that has consumed our entire family. It's beyond belief."

Nicolaides earlier told the judge he was guilty of slandering 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- who is revered with an almost religious devotion in Thailand -- and his son Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

"I respect the king of Thailand," he told reporters in a tearful voice before the hearing began. "I was aware there were obscure laws [about the monarchy] but I didn't think they would apply to me."

The Australian had previously worked as a university lecturer in northern Thailand, and was detained at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport departure lounge on August 31 on an arrest warrant issued two-and-a-half years earlier.

The charge relates to a passage in a self-published novel in 2005 titled "Verisimilitude", of which his family say only a handful of copies were sold.

Nicolaides' Melbourne-based lawyer Mark Dean said his client's health had deteriorated as a result of five months in prison.

"His physical health has deteriorated," Dean told AFP.

"He has lost weight, he has been continually unwell for extended periods of time and obviously psychologically he has found the experience of being in prison in Thailand very challenging."

Dean said earlier Nicolaides would immediately appeal for a royal pardon.

"Once that sentence is passed, if it's not a suspended sentence, then an application will be made for a royal pardon and we're hoping that that will be processed as quickly as possible," he added.

Nicolaides is not the first foreigner to fall foul of the so-called "lese majeste" laws, some of the harshest in the world protecting a royal family.

In 2007 a Swiss man, Oliver Jufer, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for defacing pictures of the king but he was later given a royal pardon and deported from the country.

Successive Thai governments have in recent months intensified the policing of laws against insulting the royal family.

Thai authorities have banned nearly 4,000 Web sites in recent months for allegedly insulting the monarchy. Police said last week that more than 17 criminal cases of insulting the royal family are currently active.

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