Royally Screwed Author Pardoned by Thai King

The offending book had sold just seven copies

Saturday, Feb 21, 2009  |  Updated 2:30 AM CDT
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Royally Screwed Author Pardoned by Thai King

AFP/Getty Images

Australian Harry Nicolaides inside a holding cell while waiting for his trial at a court in Bangkok on January 19, 2009.

MELBOURNE, Australia  — An Australian author who was jailed in Thailand for defaming the country's monarchy in a novel that sold just seven copies returned home Saturday, after he was granted a royal pardon.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, exchanged a tearful greeting with his family at Melbourne's airport, and thanked the Australian people for their support.

Nicolaides' father, Socrates Nicolaides, told The Associated Press the family planned to immediately visit a hospital where Harry's mother is recovering from a stroke, which Socrates blamed on the stress of the case.

Harry Nicolaides told reporters he had been crying for eight hours.

"I learned only a few minutes before my flight that my mother had suffered a stroke," he said. "A few hours before that I was informed I had a royal pardon ... A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank that I fell into in the prison."

His lawyer, Mark Dean, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio: "The Australian Government and the Thai Government have been working together very closely on the resolution of Harry's case," Dean said, adding that steps had been take to expedite the case.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdee confirmed the pardon had been granted.

"This is not the first time that a foreigner has been granted a royal pardon. It is within his majesty's power to do so," Thongpakdee said.

In January, Bangkok's Criminal Court sentenced Nicolaides to three years in prison for insulting the king and crown prince in a self-published 2005 book "Verisimilitude." The court said a passage about the book's fictional prince caused "dishonor" to the royal family and suggested an "abuse of royal power."

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lese majeste laws, mandating a jail term of three to 15 years for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent."

Until recently, prosecutions under the law were uncommon in a country where the 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is almost universally revered.

But questions about the monarchy have assumed a higher profile lately amid growing consideration about the eventual succession of Bhumibol, the world's longest-serving monarch and the only king most Thais have ever known.

In January, police charged a prominent Thai political commentator with insulting the king in a 2007 book.

Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University — one of the country's leading universities — denied the charges and accused the government of increasingly using lese majeste laws to silence criticism. He fled the country earlier this month for England.

Ji said he was being targeted for political reasons because his 2007 book, "A Coup for the Rich," criticized the military for launching a coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In 2007, a Swiss man, apparently acting in a drunken frenzy, defaced images of Bhumibol and was given a 10-year prison sentence. It was the first conviction of a foreigner for lese majeste in at least a decade. The man was pardoned by the king after about a month behind bars.

Nicolaides said he felt nauseous, bewildered and dazed, but that he never despaired while in jail.

"I ran out of tears, but I never ran out of hope or love," he said.
 

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