Australian author Harry Nicolaides, who has been held since 31 August on a lese-majeste charge over a passage in his 2005 novel Verisimilitude that criticises the king’s eldest son, Bhumibol Adulyadej, issued a public apology during a meeting with Reporters Without Borders in Bangkok’s main prison.
“I am sorry that my words may have hurt,” he said during the interview. “It was not my intention to attack His Majesty the king or his kingdom. I am a writer and I wrote what I had heard many Thais say. I thought it was acceptable. I made a mistake.”
He told Reporters Without Borders that only 50 copies of his novel were printed and only seven copies were ever sold. “As a writer, my role was to present my work to others in order to get their views on it. In the 300 pages, only three lines are about the prince, who is not mentioned by name. I said he had been married and that his former wife had to leave Thailand. I did not think there was any problem, as I had sent my book to the National Library and I got an ISBN [International Standard Book Number].”
He was arrested for lese-majeste under article 112 of the criminal code on 31 August, when he went to Bangkok airport to get a flight back to Australia. His request to be released on bail on 2 September was rejected on the grounds that he might try to skip the country.
Reporters Without Borders said: “His passport is being held by the authorities so it would be impossible for him to flee. Furthermore, his detention is illegal as he has not yet been formally charged. We call for his immediate release.”
Nicolaides wants to submit another conditional release request. If his case goes to trial, he faces the possibility of a prison sentence of between three and 15 years. He has been allowed a visit from his brother and his partner. Foreign journalists have also been able to interview him.
Nicolaides added: “I know the importance of respecting this country’s traditions, customs and expectations. I am not an agitator.”
05.09 - Australian writer held for past five days in Bangkok on lese-majeste charge
Reporters Without Borders condemns Australian writer Harry Nicolaides’ arrest at Bangkok airport on 31 August, as he was about to catch a flight to Australia. He was arrested on a warrant accusing him of defaming the Thai royal family in his 2005 novel Verisimilitude, which is set in Thailand. He is being held at Bangkok remand centre.
“Thailand’s lese-majeste legislation is one of the strictest in the world and is often responsible for free speech violations,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Nicolaides is aware of the limits on criticism in Thailand. His novel never intended to threaten or defame the royal family. We call on the authorities to drop the charges against him and to release him.”
Nicolaides was apparently unaware that the police had issued an arrest warrant in connection with his novel in March. The website Phuketinfo.com, to which Nicolaides was once a regular contributor, described the novel in June 2005 as a “trenchant commentary on the political and social life of contemporary Thailand.”
Lese-majeste is defined by article 112 of the criminal code, which says that defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the king, queen or regent are punishable by three to fifteen years in prison.
A Melbourne resident, Nicolaides, 41, lived in Thailand from 2003 to 2005, teaching at Mae Fah Luang university in the northern city of Chiang Rai and writing a weekly column for Phuketinfo.com. He still writes for news websites.
Meanwhile on 2 September, the ministry of information technology and communications requested the closure of 400 websites - 344 of them for “insulting the crown” - and ordered ISPs to block more than 1,200 websites under article 20 of the Computer Crime Act, which says the authorities can ask a court to restrain disseminated computer data if it “might have an impact on the Kingdom’s security [or be] be contradictory to the peace and concord or good morals of the people.”
According to the ministry, 1,896 websites are officially blocked in Thailand, 26 of them for lese-majeste.
ISPs and Internet cafés have since 24 August been obliged to keep client user data for 90 days. Each Internet café client must now also present his ID card in order to use a computer.