Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Australian Author Imprisoned in Thailand

An Australian author and teacher, Harry Nicolaides, has been jailed for 3 years under Thailand's draconian law of lèse majesté - insulting the monarchy. (Do go watch the video footage and see the poor guy shuffling around in chains - completely shameful!)

Nicholaides self-published a novel called Verisimilitude four years a go which sold a total of 7 copies. (The only copy which is still known to exist apparently sits on the shelf of the Thai National Library, freely available to the public!) The book contained a short passage, just 103 words long, which describes the rather flamboyant private life of an unnamed Thai prince.

(I dug around and found the actual extract here if your curiosity is getting the better of you!)

Nicolaides admitted the charge of insulting the royal family, but said he was unaware he was committing an offence.

The writer is by no means the only one to be suffering from this outdated and draconian law which, it seems, is (suprise, suprise) being misued by politicians.

The Australian Embassy more or less ignored the case! I see nothing about Nicolaides plight on Sydney PEN's page (something that does surprise me!).

But PEN American Centre has launched a protest and lists addresses where appeals can be sent.

I join with them in :
• Expressing serious concern about the detention and charge against writer Harry Nicolaides;

• Calling for his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a signatory.

Postscript :

Yusof found a PDF of the whole book (complete with library stamp!) - read and enjoy!

You can add your name to a petition to stop lèse majesté in Thailand here.


Yusuf Martin said...

Since the fiasco of Salam Rushdie's fatwa writers everywhere are having to censor their thoughts.

I detest censorship.

The present case of Harry Nicolaides is just one more example of heavy handed censorship.

Yusuf Martin said...

this claims to be a pdf of the book in question


bibliobibuli said...

brilliant Yusof!!!

Anonymous said...

i wonder if that prophet Muhammad cartoonist guy would have the balls to come to thailand and draw cartoons making fun of the Thai king.

or our favorite sir salman to come to pen a story doing the same IN thailand.

but all the same i feel very sorry for this guy...and only managed to sell 7 copies of the book too.

there's a lesson there somewhere boys and girls...i'm sure you can work it out for yourselves.

ah pong

Anonymous said...

His excuse, "I knew about the law but thought it wouldn't apply to me" is just sad. Why wouldn't it apply to you?

- Poppadumdum

Matt said...

omg what a tragedy. the guy didn't even see it coming. the plods read a few lines and pounced. meanwhile, thousands of undreage girls are sold into sex slavery in thailand every year. the irony is thick. shows the danger of this new technology - PRINT!

Khoo Kheng-Hor said...

I just want to say "Thank you, Sharon" for standing up for writers. It's so sad when even Harry's own government wouldn't even speak up for him.

Khoo Kheng-Hor

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add, he sounds like a typical South East Asian third world-thinks-it's-first-world nation politician: "Yar, I know got law lah, but I thought it duzzen't apply to me, cos I VIP mah..."


- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

whoever doesn't know that the Thais hold their monarchy in extremely high regard must be an idiot. i'm sorry, but no sympathy for this guy.

You Know Who

BorneoExpatWriter said...

My initial reaction was the same,outrage! But after reading the link and all those comments from Thailand,and those who know him, and the fact it was written/self-published four years ago and that he purposely sent the passage to the authorities in question, as if to bait them, I'm starting to wonder. Since he writes well and taught in Thailand for two years and I'm sure he checked all of his angles, knowing, if what the others say is true, that all non-Thais are routinely pardoned for this offense -- thus there's no risk of a lengthy incarceration, and knowing this, he did this, four years after a self-published novel of whoch 7 were sold, purely to get arrested (temporary inconvenience, with chains, for dramrtic effect!) for a huge book deal, thanks to all the publicity and "horrible circumstances that such an innocent writer finds himself in" I wonder...there is definitely more here that meets the eye.

He had given them that passage, knowing it would cause offense! If he were truly concerned, he could have discreetly showed it to a lawyer on behalf of an anonymous friend, or he could have left Thailand, published it outside and no one may not even have bothered about it. But where is the publicity? Where is the mega book deal, with a potential movie tie in, or even the future book about the indignities that he had to go through prior to his inevitable pardon.

And why would he plead guilty? Guilty, means arrested, means publicity. Plead innocent based on cultural ignoranace, which in Thailand, according to those who live there, is laughble. Everyone knows who not to insult!

Still, if he did gamble on this, on purpose, for future book/moviedeals, I wish him luck. It could all backfire (anthing can happen in prison - you're at people's mercy!) and he could be the exception, the one non-Thai who does get lengthy prison sentence for this offense.

Let's get all the facts in. True, for Thailand, that's a huge double standard! And writers the world over, do run the risk of being arrested or chased out of their home or adopted country for their words, even fiction. And that's worth taking a stand over.

bibliobibuli said...

i feel so sorry for him. naive? yes! (though - according to his brother - he did apparently consult officials about what he'd written before he published). also you would have thought that the national library would not have acquired his book if it was that controversial. so no way he saw this coming.

he really doesn't deserve this.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Does the National Library, in fact, have a copy, or is that just for irony. If it is there, why were those in the know in Thailand unable to find such a copy anywhere, and they seemed to be searching everywhere, too? Of course, regardless how this all came about, no one deserves to be put in chains and in prison unless convicted of a much more serious crime, like murder.

Slander, hardly, unless done with malicious intent to do damage. Makes the rest of us count our blessings and think twice about who we wish to offend, particulary in writing.

bibliobibuli said...

it was there in the national library! no-one hid it. someone just went there and took it off the shelf and scanned it. no-one else knows of another copy apparently.

if the guy had thought he was in any danger he wouldn't have stayed on teaching in thailand.

the lese majeste law is clearly ridiculous. no monarchy should be above criticism. no monarch is a demi-god.

Anonymous said...

So those that protest against this so-called "injustice" are not above copyright infringement?

I think Borneo Expat Writer may have something there. It all sounds way too convenient.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to take BorneoExpatWriter's word as far as the details of this particular case are concerned, because I don't have the time to do the research myself. If all that is true, then yes, it looks a bit fishy and this writer, in trying to court controversy purely for publicity, is making a mockery of the serious damage that censorship can do to art -- there've been enough people whose lives have been endangered *not* because they performed some cheap stunt (20 years since Rushdie's fatwa this year, as we all know) that to do something like this just for attention is disrespectful to those people.

That said, though, I have to agree with Sharon on the principle of the thing. It doesn't matter what's really going on here -- the law is ridiculous. No monarchy, no leader, no religion, no nation should be exempt from criticism. Whoever doesn't know that the Thais hold their monarch in high regard may indeed be an idiot, but a writer is not an idiot if he or she knows that fact and chooses, in the interest of writing a better book, to ignore it. If art bowed to everything anyone on the globe could possibly hold in high regard, where would we be?!? Should fiction never mention evolution because it offends creationists? What if there'd been a group of people somewhere on earth that worshipped bears -- should they have been allowed to lynch A.A. Milne? Maybe E.B. White should've been jailed for offending Muslims with his portrayal of the friendship between a young girl and a pig in Charlotte's Web? I mean, really, where do we draw the line?

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

well on this forum thread a friend who received a copy says "I remember before he published the book he had to wait many months to get approval and it seemed to pass that approval." Just who gave that approval and how isn't clear, but it looks as though Nicolaides felt he had covered the bases. i don't believe he was cynically inviting publicity ... he was only trying to leave the country some years after his novel was published and all but disappeared!

he wasn't sensible, that's for sure.

but ho hum was was that about buddhists and compassion? when push comes to shove human vanity wins hand down, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Bib -

Same case about the RC church evicting squatters from their land :) power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I've proven that time and time again. Give some people power, and soon enough they start evicting people who don't agree with them from their sphere of influence.

"No monarchy, no leader, no religion, no nation should be exempt from criticism."

I should say "no one". No one, no blog, no book, no post. No minute, no second, no micro-second. Nothing is exempt, everything is fair game, because we can all live our lives better.

Art has a responsibility for that. An artist's responsibility is to change perceptions, shake people out of ruts, make people think and feel and talk.

Artists do things like display disemboweled sheep. Why do they do that? because it makes you think. It makes you feel. It makes you human, because we're only human if we can feel things.

Even so, an artist has to obey local laws. There are ways around them though (as our intrepid (and only) astronaut has found out to his vast financial benefit) :)