Monday, January 19, 2009

Australian author arrested in Thailand for insulting royalty in novel; a warning to travelers

Harry Nicolaides, an Australian writer, was sentenced to three years in prison in Thailand for insulting the country’s royal family, under Thailand’s "Lese Majeste" law. The book was named “Verisimilitude”, dated 2005. The book does not appear on Amazon, and only fifty copies were printed and seven sold.

The authored had lived and worked in Thailand since 2003, but authorities waited until he was leaving, in August 2008, to arrest him. It’s possible that the King could pardon him. Others have been arrested and pardoned. There is a video, hosted by British journalist Dan Rivers, showing Nicolaides in jail.

The CNN link, dated Jan. 19, 2009 is here. The Economist has an article on the Thailand law dated Aug 14, 2008, here.

It’s not clear what in the novel insulted the monarchy, but the passages was small. CNN is not reprinting it, out of fear of endangering employees in Thailand.

I’ve wondered if a controversial blogger who criticized radical Islam could be arrested and held in countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia if he or she visited the country (say, just to see the Pyramids). It would be easy for authorities overseas to locate passages in search engines while the writer was on their soil.

But this case seemed to involved a printed book only.

Thailand has been involved in controversy before. In 2006, it deported ex teacher John Mark Karr, who had made a false confession in the Jon Benet Ramsey case (with no other motive than to communicate his own personal pain or shame), as an “undesirable.”

The US State Department always warns international travelers that they are at the mercy of the laws of the countries they visit, but try to list unusual practices under "travel warnings." The State Department does have a warning about Thailand under "special circumstances" here. "In this connection, it is a criminal offense to make negative comments about the King or other members of the royal family. Thais hold the King in the highest regard, and it is a serious crime to make critical or defamatory comments about him." Likewise about Saudi Arabia the State Department warns "Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the royal family. The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed. Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense and those convicted may be sentenced to lashing, prison, or death."

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