The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, January 22, 2009

About That Trip to Thailand

by Tricia Dower

Here’s news to give a writer pause.

On August 31, 2008, Harry Nicolaides, a 41-year-old Australian was arrested in Thailand and charged with lèse-majesté, the crime of defaming the monarchy. Since then, he’s been locked in a cell with between 50 and 90 other detainees, some violent, some suffering from TB and AIDS, in the Bangkok Remand Prison where toilets are scarce and sleep difficult.

A clause in the Thai constitution reads: "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action." Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code reads: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years." (I'm probably in trouble for writing this post.)

Nicolaides was brought to trial, finally, on Monday of this week and sentenced to three years for suggesting in his 2005 self-published book of fiction, Verisimilitude, an abuse of power by Thailand’s royal family. And here’s the kicker: he sold only seven copies of the 50 books printed. If I ever go to jail over a book, I hope it’s a best seller.

The Australian government has asked Thailand to pardon Nicolaides. PEN and Reporters Without Borders also are lobbying on his behalf.

Nicolaides has described his novel as a commentary on political and social life of contemporary Thailand. He says that before publication he wrote to Thailand's Bureau of the Royal Household, asking for their reaction to the contentious paragraph, but he received no reply. Here’s the paragraph:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives major and minor with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Although the paragraph refers to a fictional king and prince, the Thai government considers it defamation against 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. (I wonder what they think of Anna and the King of Siam.)

Nicolaides lectured on hospitality and tourism at a Thai university. He’d been travelling in and out of the country on visa runs when he was detained before boarding a flight to Australia. It’s unclear why his arrest came three years after he published the book.

Although I find his sentence unjust, I was surprised at how many people commented otherwise following articles I read for this post. Here's a particularly heartless comment: “No point in whining about Thai law when you are in Thailand. It's a bit like complaining about the electric chair in the USA. Everyone knows the Thais revere their king and that it is against the law to criticize him—except, it seems, Harry. At least he gets his day in court. He could be in Guantanamo.”

Photos: Harry before and after being jailed for nearly five months.


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

This kind of thing bothers me to no end.

Fri Jan 23, 06:03:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger t said...

I agree. This kind of injustice, and half-considered public reaction, tends to make me crazy too. Thanks for alerting us to this issue, Tricia.

Sat Jan 24, 05:50:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for reading, Tony and Tamara. I'll follow-up on this story and let you know if Harry is pardoned.

Mon Jan 26, 12:46:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Scary stuff.

Fri Jan 30, 11:52:00 am GMT-5  

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