Australian author out of Bangkok jail after royal pardon

February 21st, 2009 - 4:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 21 (DPA) Australian Harry Nicolaides arrived back in Melbourne Saturday after being pardoned by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and released from a Bangkok prison.
Nicolaides was arrested in August and sentenced to a three-year jail term last month after pleading guilty to a charge of insulting the royal family.

“I have been crying for eight hours,” Nicolaides told reporters at Melbourne airport.

Nicolaides, 41, said a royal pardon was issued Wednesday and he had been asked to kneel before a portrait of the revered king.

“A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank I fell into in the prison,” he said. “I ran out of tears, but I never ran out of hope or love.”

The minimum sentence under Thailand’s harsh lese majeste law, which makes it a criminal offence to insult or belittle the royal family, is three years imprisonment. The maximum sentence is 15 years.

Nicolaides’ was one of several high-profile cases of lese majeste in recent months. Giles Ungprakorn, a well-known Thai academic, fled the country for Britain earlier this month after being formally charged with lese majeste.

Nicolaides’ release was welcomed by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

“SEAPA welcomes the pardon on Nicolaides, but the problem with lese majeste remains,” SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said.

“As a vague, over-broad law that can be used by anyone against anybody else, it is a blunt instrument too easily abused by politicians, the military, and others in Thailand to stifle free expression, and not just news and commentary relevant to the royal family.”

Thailand’s lese majeste law was passed in the 1950s when the country was under a military dictatorship. The legislation has been obliquely criticised by King Bhumibol himself, who in a speech three years ago noted that he should not be above criticism.

The lese majeste charged referred to 12 lines Nicolaides wrote in his self-published 2005 novel, “Verisimilitude”, which referred to an unspecified crown prince’s love life.

Only seven copies of the book were sold.

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