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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: IT Projects Engineer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent