20 Jan 2009

Australian jailed for three years for Thai royal insult

1:18 pm on 20 January 2009

A Thai court has sentenced an Australian writer to three years in jail for insulting the country's royal family.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, appeared in court on Monday wearing a dark orange prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed and his feet shackled.

He has been in custody since his arrest at a Thai airport as he was about to board a plane for Melbourne in August last year.

He was detained under Thailand's severe lese-majeste laws over his 2005 novel Verisimilitude. His family said only 50 copies of the book were published and less than 10 sold.

His offence is believed to have come from three sentences in the novel in which the narrator refers to the private life of Thailand's crown prince.

Nicolaides, a Melbourne resident who lived in the constitutional monarchy from 2003 to 2005 where he taught at the Mae Fah Luang University, has described his novel as a commentary on political and social life of contemporary Thailand.

Lese-majeste, or insulting the monarchy, is a very serious offence in Thailand, where many people regard 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej as semi-divine. It is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Critics of the law say it is open to abuse since a complaint can be filed by anybody against anybody, no matter how minor the alleged disrespect.

It has been a regular feature of the turbulence that has gripped Thai politics for the past three years.

The judge said Nicolaides' confession had led his sentence to be cut from six to three years, the minimum term allowed for the offence under Thailand's penal code.