Aus writer gets royal pardon

2009-02-21 09:24

Sydney - An Australian writer jailed for insulting the Thai royal family flew home to a tearful reunion with his family Saturday after being pardoned by the king and freed from jail.

Feeling "bewildered, dazed and nauseous", Harry Nicolaides touched down in the city of Melbourne Saturday after spending five months in a Bangkok prison on charges of slandering the Thai monarchy.

Thai officials said 41-year-old Nicolaides was released Friday evening after officials approved a royal pardon - the result of intense lobbying by Canberra.

"I was informed I had a royal pardon and asked to kneel before a portrait of the king - a royal audience of sorts," Nicolaides told reporters on arrival at Melbourne airport.

"A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank that I fell into in the prison."

"I ran out of tears but I never ran out of hope or love," he added, after an emotional homecoming with his family.

'Slandering the monarchy'

Nicolaides was sentenced to three years jail after pleading guilty to lese majeste, or slandering the monarchy, in his 2005 novel titled Verisimilitude.

A spokesperson from Australia's foreign affairs department said diplomats in Bangkok and Canberra had worked closely to resolve the writer's case.

"We appreciate the expeditious handling of the pardon by Thai authorities," the spokesperson said.

Speaking at his son's side, Nicolaides' father Socrates said the ordeal had been a "living death" for the family.

"But now I feel I have come alive again," he said.

Brother Forde Nicolaides said he was "ecstatic" at the outcome.

"Our emphasis to the Thai government was ... for them to consider Harry's case compassionately and expeditiously," he told national newswire AAP.

"I think everyone was on the same page, as they have been reasonably expeditious with the application. We are very grateful for that."

Clumsy first attempt at fiction

Nicolaides, who had previously worked as a university lecturer in Thailand, has been in prison since his arrest at Bangkok airport's departure lounge on August 31.

The charge against him related to a passage in the novel, of which Nicolaides says only a handful of copies were sold.

"My book, Verisimilitude, was a rather clumsy first attempt at fiction - only 50 copies were printed and seven sold," he said, in a piece dictated from his prison cell earlier this month.

"On the King's 81st birthday I saw fireworks in the distance. Some prisoners had tears in their eyes, praising a man they regard not just as their king but their father."

"I may not be Thai, but I am a son, and I know what it means to love a father. I am applying for a royal pardon. I pray the king learns of my plight so I might enjoy his grace."

Thailand has some of the strictest laws in the world protecting revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family from insult, but media freedom groups have accused authorities of abusing the law to suppress dissent.

Thai authorities have banned nearly 4 000 websites in recent months for allegedly insulting the monarchy. Police said last week that more than 17 criminal cases of insulting the royal family are currently active.