That crazy lèse majesté law totally drives me nuts. The above image shows King Bhumibol Adulyadej in his favorite hat. If they don't let this English teacher out of prison real quick, I have another photo of King Bhumibol dancing in his ballerina outfit.
Check this out. Cancel my holiday plans for Thailand. Cancel YOUR holiday plans for Thailand.
(Paris, owned by New York Times)
Monday 19 January 2009
writer for insults
by Seth Mydans and Mark McDonald
BANGKOK: An Australian writer was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for insulting the Thai monarchy in a self-published novel.
Harry Nicolaides, 41, originally received a six-year sentence, which the court said it reduced because he had pleaded guilty. The book, "Verisimilitude," was published in 2005 and reportedly sold fewer than a dozen copies.
The case was brought under the country's strict lèse-majesté laws, which call for a jail term of up to 15 years for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent."
The presiding judge said Monday that parts of the book "suggested that there was abuse of royal power."
The boundaries of the law are unclear, and cases can be brought by any citizen, involving a variety of alleged offenses. Dozens of cases are now pending. In addition, the government has closed down more than 2,000 Web sites that it says include material insulting to the monarchy.
Speaking to reporters before the verdict was announced, Nicolaides said he had endured "unspeakable suffering" during five months of detention. "I would like to apologize," he added. "This can't be real. It feels like a bad dream."
Nicolaides, who had been an English teacher in Thailand, was detained Aug. 31 as he was about to board a plane home, apparently unaware that an arrest warrant had been issued against him.
"At nighttime he's in a cell with at least 50 other people," Nicolaides's attorney, Mark Dean, said in an interview last month with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "The sanitary conditions, to put it mildly, are basic. People suffer from TB and HIV. There is violence within the cell."
A news release about the novel, posted on a blog called Costa del Gangster, called the book "an uncompromising assault on the patrician values of the monarchy." It said the book was "savage, ruthless and unforgiving" in revealing a society "obsessed with Western affluence and materialism."
Nicolaides reportedly printed only 50 copies of the book - a paperback, with a bright blue butterfly on the cover - and sold just 10. Long out of print, it is not listed on Amazon.com or other booksellers' Web sites.
"I think it's reasonable to say that just writing a simple paragraph in a novel, to expect that would land you in such serious legal trouble, must have come as a surprise for Harry," Andrew Walker, a fellow in the Asia-Pacific Program at Australian National University, said on ABC.
"I think Thailand is trying to send a message to international media, to writers, to bloggers, to people who are putting material on the Internet that the royal family is out of bounds."
The lèse-majesté cases come at a time of growing concern about the eventual succession of the highly revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is 81. He has no official political role but is a unifying force and peacemaker in a nation that has become increasingly factionalized and acrimonious.
Last week the new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said that the monarchy must be protected because it offers "immense benefits to the country as a stabilizing force." But he said he would try to ensure that the law was not abused.
Most cases involve Thai citizens, although foreigners are sometimes also accused.
In 2006 a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for spray-painting over images of the king. He was pardoned by the king and released after serving about a month.
A reporter for the BBC, Jonathan Head, was accused of lèse-majesté late last year in a complaint that cited reports he and others had written for the company. The company denies the allegations and says it is cooperating with the authorities.
One of the most prominent current cases involves a leading Thai academic and writer, Ji Ungpakorn, who has been called to a hearing Tuesday. He said the charge involves a book he wrote about the military coup in September 2006 that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
At a news conference last week, he said the law "restricts freedom of speech and expression and does not allow for public accountability and transparency of the institution of the monarchy."
In November, a prominent social critic and Buddhist intellectual, Sulak Sivaraksa, was charged with lèse-majesté for questioning the need for lavish celebrations of the king's reign.
Last April, an activist named Chotisak Onsoong, was summoned by the police after refusing to stand up during the playing of the royal anthem before a movie. And a former government minister under Thaksin, Jakrapob Penkair, has been charged in connection with remarks he made at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
The police are obliged to investigate any charge of lèse-majesté, and Jakrapob said an accusation could be used as a political weapon. Accusations of disrespect for the monarchy were stated as one reason for the coup that removed Thaksin.
Mark McDonald reported from Hong Kong.
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ABC / Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Tuesday 20 January 2009
Lawyers to seek
Lawyers for Australian author, Harry Nicolaides, will lodge an application for a Royal Pardon this week after the Melbourne man was sentenced to three years' jail for insulting the Royal family.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Mark Dean, Senior Counsel for Harry Nicolaides
DEAN: Well, he's found the experience of imprisonment in Thailand extremely challenging and it's taken its toll on his health, both physically and psychological the conditions in which he was held in Thailand were basic to say the least, held in very overcrowded conditions, with poor sanitation and so. And so the situation for him has been extremely difficult.
LAM: Do we know what kind of prison facilities there are? For instance, is he being held in jail that's for white collar crime, rather than say drug traffickers in a rougher part of the jail?
DEAN: He's held in remand in Thailand and there are convicted prisoners and prisoners on remand of a wide range of age, ages between say 13 and 80 I'm told convicted of all sorts of crimes and charged with all sorts of crimes.
LAM: What kind of support does Harry have in the Thai jail apart from the lawyers whom presumably might see him once a day?
DEAN: Well the lawyers see him probably on a weekly basis and the Australian Government has provided consular support on a regular basis for consular staff from Bangkok, visit him on a regular basis.
LAM: Well, the court imposed a three year sentence as you said, rather than the maximum 15 years. The fact that the courts imposed the minimum, what does that tell you? Do you think that means that perhaps the court recognises that Harry Nicolaides meant no harm?
DEAN: Well, whether or not the court believes he meant no harm, the court obviously took the view that the offence itself fell at the very low end of seriousness of offences of this nature by imposing a penalty of three years which was the absolute minimum available to the court. The court was obviously of the view that the offence was not a serious one.
LAM: Are you free to talk about the offending part of that book, because many people are not clear about what exactly was so offensive in that part of the book that got Mr Nicolaides into trouble?
DEAN: Well, the book itself is a work of fiction. The narrator recounts a rumour that he has heard regarding the King and the Crown Prince. It's not put in any temporal setting, that is it's not said to be a rumour circulating now or currently. The name of the King is not identified and nor is the name of the Crown Prince identified.
The rumour does not concern the King, in terms and it does concern the Crown Prince, his personal life.
LAM: I understand that the book only sold a few copies, so presumably not many people in Thailand have read it. What do you know about Thai attitudes towards this case?
DEAN: Well, the Thai population generally have a high degree of reverence to the monarchy and I would imagine that any intended criticism of the monarchy would be taken very seriously by the Thai population.
LAM: But I understand that the book is still on the shelf of Thailand's National Library is that right?
DEAN: Yes it is, it is, that's correct and we're now focusing on resolving the case as quickly as possible from Harry's point of view to achieve his release from prison.
LAM: Is there any possibility at all that he will not serve the full three years, that he might be let off early or indeed not be sent to jail at all?
DEAN: Well, if the Royal Pardon is successful, Harry will be released from prison and deported from Thailand within 24 hours of the pardon being granted.
Scope of the law
Although Bhumibol is held in great respect by many Thais, he is also protected by lèse majesté laws which allow critics to be jailed for three to fifteen years. The laws were toughened during the dictatorship of royalist Premier Tanin Kraivixien, such that criticism of any member of the royal family, the royal development projects, the royal institution, the Chakri Dynasty, or any previous Thai King was also banned. Jail terms for Thai citizens committing lèse majesté are usually harsher than for foreigners. Social critic Sulak Sivaraksa has been charged several times with lèse majesté, but has always been acquitted. Politician Veera Musikapong was jailed and banned from politics for lèse majesté, despite the palace's opinion that the remarks were harmless. Frenchman Lech Tomacz Kisielwicz refused to switch off a reading light on a Thai Airways flight he shared with two Thai princesses and was jailed under lèse majesté for two weeks after his flight landed in Bangkok. He was acquitted after apologizing to the King.
There is controversy over whether criticism of members of Bhumibol's Privy Council also qualifies as criticism of Bhumibol. Police Special Branch Commander Lt-General Theeradech Rodpho-thong refused to file charges of lèse majesté against activists who launched a petition to oust Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, claiming that the law only applied to members of the royal family. Two days later, he was demoted by Police Commander Seripisut Temivavej.
There was also controversy following the death of Princess Galyani Vadhana. The website of Same Sky Books, publishers of Fah Diao Kan magazine, was shut down by the government after comments on its bulletin board questioned claims made by the Thai media that the entire country was in mourning over the death. Comments were also made criticizing official calls for the public to wear black as a sign of mourning.
Bhumibol himself stated that he was not above criticism in his 2005 birthday speech. "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human," he said. "If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong." Despite this, few have dared to call for the repeal of the law. Any doing so have been accused of disloyalty and could also be charged with lèse majesté. Political scientist Giles Ungpakorn noted that "the lèse majesté laws are not really designed to protect the institution of the monarchy. In the past the laws have been used to protect governments, to protect military coups. This whole [royal] image is created to bolster a conservative elite well beyond the walls of the palace."
Political use of the lèse majesté law
Accusations of lèse majesté are often politically motivated. Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his political opponent Sondhi Limthongkul both filed charges of lèse majesté against each other during the 2005–2006 political crisis. Thaksin's alleged lèse majesté was one of the stated reasons for the Thai military's 2006 coup.
In 2005, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) issued arrest warrants for two Swedish citizens, Abdulrosa Jehngoh and Chipley Putra Jehngoh, claiming that their Manusaya.com website contained content insulting to Bhumibol. Chipley Putra Jehngoh also held Malaysian and Thai citizenship and at the time lived in the Middle East. Abdulrosa Jehngoh was granted Swedish citizenship and lives in Sweden. The website was hosted in Canada and was linked to separatist organisation in southern Thailand or more specifically the website 'www.pulo.org' which incited separatist movement.
Sondhi, a vocal opposition of Prime Minister Thaksin, often accused Thaksin and his affiliates of lèse majesté. In April 2007, A Bangkok criminal court sentenced Sondhi for defamation for claiming on his Muang Thai Rai Sapda talk show that Thaksin's Deputy Transport Minister, Phumtham Vejjayachai, was linked to the anti-royal Manusaya.com website.
Academics have been investigated for lèse majesté for even questioning the role of the monarchy in Thai society. In 2007, Assistant Professor Boonsong Chaisingkananon of Silpakorn University was investigated for lèse majesté for asking students in an exam if the institution of the monarchy was necessary for Thai society and how it may be reformed to be consistent with the democratic system. The University cooperated with the police investigation, and even turned over students' answer sheets and the marks the professor gave them.
Another case of an academic is that of Australian Harry Nicolaides who in 2005 he published a book titled: 'Verisimilitude'. Even though the book apparently sold less than a dozen copies, a warrant for his arrest was issued. In the summer of 2008 Nicolaides was visiting the country and in August 2008 when he was about to leave he was arrested and incarcerated until his trial, which took place in January 2009. On January 19th, Nicolaides was given a 3 year jail term, reduced from the initial 6 year jail term becuase of his guilty plea. Nicolaides is still behind bars today. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7836854.stm
Insults to Bhumibol's image
Acts deemed insulting to Bhumibol's image are also criminal offenses in Thailand. Charges may be filed by anybody, except for Bhumibol himself. In 2007, Oliver Jufer, a Swiss man, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for daubing black paint on portraits of Bhumibol while drunk. The Thai press was requested not to publish any information about the case. "This is a delicate issue and we don't want the public to know much about it," noted chief prosecutor Manoon Moongpanchon. The man originally pleaded innocent, but eventually pleaded guilty to five acts of lèse majesté. Foreign reporters were barred from the hearing. Saprang Kalayanamitr publicly suspected that Jufer was hired to perform the vandalism and ordered a military investigation. Jufer was pardoned by the king less than a month after his conviction.
Other insults to Bhumibol's image that have resulted in criminal complaints of lèse majesté and arrests include placing photographs of anybody above photographs of the King on websites and refusing to stand while the Royal Anthem is played at cinemas.
Another high-profile case was the banning of YouTube. On 04 April 2007, the Thai government blocked Thai access to YouTube as a result of a video clip which it deemed insulting to the king. Various leaders of the military junta claimed that the clip was an attempt to undermine the monarchy, attack Thailand as a country, and threatened national security. On October 28, 2008, The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) announced plans to spend about 100 million to 500 million baht to build a gateway to block websites with contents defaming the royal institution.