Australian gets 3 years in prison for insulting Thai monarchy

January 19th, 2009 - 3:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Jan 19 (DPA) A Bangkok court Monday sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail for allegedly insulting the Thai monarchy in his novel “Verisimilitude” published in 2005, court sources said.The Bangkok Criminal Court found Harry Nicolaides, 41, guilty of lese majeste for a passage in his novel that allegedly criticised the son of Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s much-revered king for the past 62 years.

Publicly criticizing or belittling the Thai royal family is a criminal offence in Thailand, punishable by a minimum of three years in jail up to a maximum of 15 years.

Judges said they gave Nicolaides the minimum sentence because he pleaded quilty. The Australian national also issued a public apology to the monarchy for the offending passage in his book, which reportedly sold only seven copies.

“It was not my intention to attack His Majesty the king or his kingdom,” Nicolaides reportedly told Reporters Without Borders. “I am a writer and I wrote what I had heard many Thais say. I thought it was acceptable. I made a mistake.”

Nicolaides was arrested Aug 31, 2008, at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport when taking a flight to Australia.

His arrest coincided with a political crisis in Bangkok, sparked by the pro-royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Thailand’s lese majeste law is deemed one of the world’s harshest. There are several cases pending in Thai courts against prominent politicians and journalists.

Two years ago King Bhumibol himself publicly criticised the lese majeste law, noting that he did not consider himself above criticism.

The law was adopted decades ago when Thailand was a fledgling democracy under military control.

Thai politicians have been reluctant to change the law, given the enormous popularity of King Bhumibol.

“I belive that the monarchy has immense benefits to the country and is a stabilising force,” said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand last week.

“We must uphold the law, but we must not allow people to interpret the law too liberally and abuse the law,” he said of the lese majeste legislation.

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