Australian Academic Sentenced to Jail for Insulting Thai Monarchy

January 19, 2009

A Thai court today sentenced an Australian lecturer, whose fictional novel depicted a member of the royal family in an unflattering light, to a three-year jail term for insulting the monarchy, the Associated Press reported.

Harry Nicolaides, who taught English and social science at Mae Fah Luang University, in northern Thailand, was found guilty of “lèse-majesté,” the notion that offending the dignity of a ruler constitutes a crime. A passage in his self-published book, Verisimilitude, which reportedly sold fewer than 20 copies, suggested that the crown prince had abused his mistresses.

Mr. Nicolaides appeared shaken as he arrived at the Bangkok court in shackles and handcuffs. He said he had never intended to insult King Bhumibol Adulyadej or his family.

“I would like to apologize,” he told reporters. “This can’t be real. This is an Alice in Wonderland experience. I really believe that I’m going to wake up and it will all be gone.”

Thailand has one of the harshest “lèse-majesté” laws in the world. While the 81-year-old monarch is widely popular, human-rights groups assert that the law is being used to muffle government critics.

Last week Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a well-known Thai political-science professor, was interrogated by the police for suggesting in his book that the monarchy had sided with Bangkok’s elite during a 2006 coup. —Martha Ann Overland