Writer jailed for defaming royalty in book that sold seven copies

An Australian writer whose novel sold just seven copies has been jailed for three years for defaming the King of Thailand.

Harry Nicolaides, who appeared in court in leg irons and brown prison overalls, broke down and wept after the court delivered its sentence. He would have faced double the time in jail had be not pleaded guilty.

"This can't be real. It feels like a bad dream," Mr Nicolaides, from Melbourne, told reporters as he left the court yesterday. "This is an Alice in Wonderland experience. I really believe that I am going to wake up and all of you will be gone."

The case of Mr Nicolaides, of mixed Greek and Australian descent is a tale that mixes tragedy and farce. The 41-year-old was charged over his 2005 novel Verisimilitude whose sales failed to make it into double figures. According to the presiding judge at Bangkok's Central Criminal Court, a passage in the book that discussed the personal life of a fictional prince "suggested that there was abuse of royal power". Precisely what was deemed offensive is unclear; after the case, the prosecutor warned reporters that the law prohibited the repetition of the material.

Mr Nicolaides, who taught at a university in the north of Thailand and was detained when trying to leave the country, unaware of the allegation against him, has fallen foul of Thailand's "lese-majeste" laws which prohibit the publication of anything considered defamatory of the royal family and in particular 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Anyone saying anything considered offensive of the king, considered semi-divine, faces jail of up to 15 years.

Increasingly, however, the law has been used as a tool to silence critics of the royal family against the backdrop of Thailand's recent political turmoil. The Royal family, in particular, Queen Sirikit has been criticised for its closeness to campaigners who laid siege to parts of Bangkok city and saw two previous prime ministers forced from office. Last October, the queen attended the funeral of an anti-government protester killed during clashes with police.

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. And even though the king himself has said he should not be above the law, police feel obliged to investigate all accusations. Earlier this month, Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga vowed to toughen laws protecting the monarchy and crack down on criticism of the palace and a Thai man accused of insulting the monarchy in comments posted on the internet was arrested last week. Up to 2,300 websites considered critical of the royal family have been shut even though the recently elected and British-educated prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva said last week he was trying to "strike the balance between upholding the law and allowing freedom of expression".

Yet opinion about the Thai royal family appears mixed. Yesterday evening as the sun fell behind Bangkok's Chao Phraya River, The Independent interviewed workers heading home on the cross-river ferry. Those who gave their names universally spoke warmly of the king. "I like the King of Thailand. He is the King of Kings," beamed Kukiat Ngamwitrot, a human resources executive.

Privately people may feel a little different. One 22-year-old man who asked not to be named said he believed the royal family should keep out of politics. "Now the king and queen have joined with the politics and that is not good. The politics should be separate. The queen has been a big supporter of the protesters," he said.

Thailand's Eton-educated Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was elected last month following months of turmoil that had seen two prime minister of the People's Power Party (PPP) - once headed by another former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - forced from office by the courts. In November, protesters opposed to the rule of the PPP closed down Bangkok's airports, stranding thousands of international tourists.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us