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Calls for change in lese majeste law after Thai monarch pardons Australian writer

Calls for change in lese majeste law after Thai monarch pardons writer
Australian Harry Nicolaides is seen arriving at a court in Bangkok, on January 19. The Thai king has pardoned and freed Nicolaides who was jailed for insulting the royal family.Photo: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has flown back home from Thailand after being granted a royal pardon on February 19. Press freedom groups have called upon authorities to reform the draconian lese majeste laws under which he was sentenced.

On his arrival at Melbourne airport on February 21, a moved Nicolaides thanked his fellow Australians for their support during the more than five months in spent in a Bangkok prison. He was told he was being released just a few hours before being put on a flight back to Australia. Thai officials made him kneel before a photo of the king before freeing him.

“I have been crying for eight hours as I learned only a few minutes before my flight that my mother had suffered a stroke,” Nicolaides told journalists, adding that he blamed his detention for his mother’s condition.

Nicolaides, 41, was sentenced by the Bangkok criminal court on January 19 to three years in prison on a charge of lese majeste under article 112 of the criminal code for referring in his 2005 novel Verisimilitude to the way King Bhumipol’s son had treated one his mistresses. He pleaded guilty at the trial and asked the court to be lenient. Only 50 copies of the novel were ever printed.

“Nicolaides should never have been arrested and sentenced to three years in prison,” Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “By according him a pardon, the king has corrected a serious miscarriage of justice and a violation of free expression. We call for an end to lese majeste proceedings against Thai citizens such as university academic Giles Ungpakorn and Internet user Suwicha Thakor.”

"While we welcome the release of Harry Nicolaides, we strongly believe he never should have been imprisoned in the first place," said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia sepresentative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "Thai authorities have used his case to sow fear and confusion among local and foreign journalists who touch upon the monarchy and monarchical institutions in their reporting. It's time for that cynical practice to stop."

Earlier this month, RSF issued a report on lese majeste in Thailand and organised a cyber-demonstration to demand Nicolaides’ release.

Date posted: February 26, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 333