Harry Nicolaides

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Harry Nicolaides (born 1967 or 1968[1]) is an Australian writer of Greek-Cypriot origin imprisoned in Thailand under the Thai lèse majesté law, for a passage in a 2005 novel of his deemed to defame the Thai monarchy. On 19 January 2009 he was sentenced to three years in prison. He was pardoned on 21 February, after having spent six months in a Thai prison.

Personal background[edit]

In 2002 Nicolaides had published Concierge Confidential, a collection of fictional short stories based on his experience of having worked for seven years as chief concierge at Melbourne's Rydges Hotel.[2] He lived in Thailand from 2003 to 2005, working as a teacher in the northern Thai city Chiang Rai. Nicolaides later also lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, and wrote an article about the country as he perceived it, for The New Statesman.[3]

The lèse majesté law[edit]

The Thai law, section 112, reads: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years."[4]

Imprisonment, trial, sentence[edit]

Nicolaides was arrested at the Bangkok airport on 31 August 2008 while preparing to board a plane to Australia, apparently unaware of a March arrest warrant.[5]

Wearing shackles and handcuffs on 19 January 2009, the day of the trial, Nicolaides told reporters that he would like to apologise and that he had "unqualified respect for the king of Thailand" and had not intended to insult him.[5] He added "I was aware there were obscure laws (about the monarchy) but I didn't think they would apply to me."[6]

He pleaded guilty and due to this confession a six year prison sentence was reduced to three years, the minimum sentence under the law.[6]

He later described the harsh conditions in the Bangkok Remand Prison, relating that he had met the suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout and the Canadian child molester Christopher Neil there.[7][8][9]

Offending text[edit]

The passage in question was from Nicolaides' 2005 self-published novel, Verisimilitude. Is the truth, the truth? which sold seven copies.[5] The book was described in a news release as "an uncompromising assault on the patrician values of the monarchy", and as "savage, ruthless and unforgiving" in revealing a society "obsessed with Western affluence and materialism."[10] The paragraph which resulted in his imprisonment discusses the personal life of a fictional prince:

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.[1][5]

Many Western media outlets, including CNN, refused to publish the substance of the allegation for fear of reprisals against their staff.[4][8]

Nicolaides says that he sent letters to the Royal Bureau of Household Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture to get a legal opinion on the passage, but did not receive a reply.[8]

Pardon[edit]

Nicolaides' lawyers were pressing for a royal pardon, an effort supported by the Australian government. An official at the Thai Embassy in Canberra commented in January 2009 that foreigners convicted under this law usually get pardoned and deported.[11]

Nicolaides received a royal pardon and returned to Melbourne on 21 February 2009.[12][13]

On his initial release he had been taken to the Australian embassy in Bangkok and given clean clothes prior to the flight home. Minutes before boarding the flight he learned his mother had suffered a stroke two weeks prior and had lost the ability to speak. "I'm angry and frustrated and perplexed at my treatment," Nicolaides said. "I'm tired and exhausted and I've got a mother to go and see who's lost the power of speech." Nicolaides plans to write a book about the ordeal.[14]

Motive[edit]

Shortly after Nicolaides' release a former colleague at Mae Fah Luang University, Heath Dollar, accused the author of intentionally including the passage knowing it would violate Thai law. This was done, according to Dollar, as a publicity stunt to attract attention and ensure Nicolaides' books would be published.[15][16]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Thais detain Aussie writer, The Australian, 5 September 2008
  2. ^ Confessions of a concierge, The Age, 17 December 2002
  3. ^ Conspiracy kingdom:Teaching English in Saudi, Harry Nicolaides discovered a land of black markets, Black Label and beheadings, The New Statesman, 19 July 2007
  4. ^ a b Author jailed for insulting Thai king, CNN.com, 19 January 2009
  5. ^ a b c d Thai court jails Australian novelist for three years over royal 'insult', The Scotsman, 19 January 2009
  6. ^ a b Writer Harry Nicolaides jailed for three years over insult to Thailand monarchy, The Australian, 19 January 2009
  7. ^ The medieval price an author pays for insulting Thailand's monarchy, The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 2009
  8. ^ a b c Paul Dailing, Australian Writer Who Insulted Thai Monarchy Shares Prison Cell With Child Molester, Weapons Dealer, The Huffington Post, 22 January 2009
  9. ^ The King & I, The Monthly, April 2009
  10. ^ Thailand sentences writer for insults, International Herald Tribune, 19 January 2009
  11. ^ Aussie govt asks for Nicolaides pardon, The Age, 21 January 2009
  12. ^ Thailand frees Australian writer, news.bbc.co.uk, 21 February 2009
  13. ^ Tearful reunion as Nicolaides returns to Melbourne, abc.net.au, 21 February 2009
  14. ^ Freed author to write of jail hell, WA Today, 21 February 2009
  15. ^ Kate Lahey and Louise Schwartzkoff (23 February 2009). "Freed writer denies book passage a stunt". The Age. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Martyr to his literary ambition". The Sydney Morning Herald. 23 February 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 

External links[edit]