After six months in detention in Thailand, Australian writer Harry Nicolaides is once again a free man. Nicolaides was arrested in August 2008 on the charge of ‘lese-majeste’, or defaming the royal familiy of Thailand, by referring to certain behaviour of the Thai prince in a self-published novel that sold seven copies. (The history of lese-majeste laws go back as far as the Roman empire, but unfortunately did not perish with Rome.) Over the weekend he flew back to Australia, freed via a royal pardon rather than the quashing of his conviction.
While we welcome and celebrate Nicolaidesâ€™ freedom, the fact remains that it is only because Nicolaides is an Australian citizen that his conviction made headlines in this country. From the Australian media you would never know that there are more than 600 writers around the world suffering imprisonment, harassment and detention for writing something – an opinion or, increasingly, an internet message or report – of which their respective government disapproves. Members and supporters of Sydney PEN lobbied on Nicolaides’ behalf by writing letters of protest to the Thai Ambassador and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith. We have been told these letters had influence in bringing early attention to this outrageous breach of human rights.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning muddied the waters around Nicolaides’ real motivation in writing about the Thai prince. Whether or not the report is true is irrelevant beside the fact that the lese-majeste law is a breach of human rights and thoroughly objectionable. I have submitted an op-ed on this topic to the Herald and will publish it here if it doesn’t make it to the opinion pages of the newspaper.