Insults land writer in jail

2009-01-19 11:37
Bangkok - An Australian writer was sentenced to three years in jail by a Thai court on Monday after he pleaded guilty to insulting Thailand's revered royal family in a novel, a judge said.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, appeared in a Bangkok court wearing a dark orange prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed and his feet shackled, an AFP reporter said. He has already been in custody for nearly five months.

"He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy," the judge told the court.

"He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years," the judge said.

Leaving the court, Nicolaides told reporters: "I wish my family the best."

Nicolaides' lawyer said he would seek a royal pardon for the sentence, the latest in a series of penalties under Thailand's notoriously harsh laws against insulting the monarchy.

A gaunt-looking Nicolaides earlier told the judge he was guilty of slandering 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Challenging

Nicolaides, who had previously worked as a university lecturer in northern Thailand, was detained at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport departure lounge on August 31 on an arrest warrant issued two-and-a-half years earlier.

The charge relates to a passage in a self-published novel in 2005 titled Verisimilitude.

His family has said that only a handful of copies were ever sold.

"People told me they will make a deal if I plead guilty. I pleaded not guilty last time with advice from someone," Nicolaides said outside court before the hearing.

"I respect the king of Thailand," he added. "I was aware there were obscure laws (about the monarchy) but I didn't think they would apply to me."

Nicolaides' Melbourne-based lawyer Mark Dean said his client's health had deteriorated as a result of five months in prison.

"He has found the circumstances of his imprisonment very challenging," Dean told AFP.

Royal pardon

"His physical health has deteriorated, he has lost weight, he has been continually unwell for extended periods of time. And obviously psychologically he has found the experience of being in prison in Thailand very challenging."

Dean said earlier Nicolaides would immediately appeal for a royal pardon.

"Once that sentence is passed, if it's not a suspended sentence, then an application will be made for a royal pardon and we're hoping that that will be processed as quickly as possible," he added.

In 2007 a Swiss man, Oliver Jufer, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for defacing pictures of the king but he was later given a royal pardon and deported from the country.

Successive Thai governments have in recent months intensified the policing of laws against insulting the royal family. The country's lese majeste laws are some of the harshest in the world.

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.

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