BANGKOK, 19 Jan 2009: An Australian writer, who had taught English at a university in the northern city of Chiang Mai, today was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to a charge of lese majeste (insulting a sovereign or ruler).
Harry Nicolaides, 42, had his sentence reduced from six years when he pleaded guilty to insulting the Thai royal family in his novel, Verisimilitude which was published in Thailand in 2005.
He was arrested on Aug 31, last year at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport while waiting to fly to Melbourne.
According to previous media reports, the Australian first arrived in Thailand in 2003 where he became a university lecturer and occasionally wrote for newspapers and magazines.
Under Thai law, lese majeste is a serious crime and those who insult the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej or the royal family can be jailed to up to 15 years, but it’s hardly enforced.
However, there have been several cases of lese majeste, reported lately.
These include the high-profile charge against former minister Jakrapop Penkae for an offence said to have been committed while giving a talk at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club here, two years ago, as well as BBC correspondent Jonathan Head who moderated the event.
The latest case is of political critic Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn, from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University who is facing lese majeste charges for writing a book, A Coup for the Rich, which criticised the 2006 military coup.
Last week, Thai police said they had completed investigations into nine cases on anti-coup activists, including Suchart Nakbangsai who is said to have fled the country to avoid being charged for a similar offence.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said that one of the main priorities of his new government was to defend the monarchy. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry has ordered more than 4,000 websites to be shut down for insulting the royal family.
“There appears to be a deliberate attempt to drag the monarchy down into the political fray. As the monarchy has brought immense benefit to the country as a stabilising force, the Government will not allow that to continue.
“Regarding the websites, the government, in approaching this problem, will also respect the right to freedom of speech and expression.
“As for lese majeste cases, the government must uphold the laws but would not allow the people to interpret the laws too liberally and abuse them,” Abhisit told the foreign media last week. — Bernama