Thai monarch pardons jailed Australian writer

New York, February 23, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from a Thai detention facility of Australian writer Harry Nicolaides but calls upon authorities to reform the draconian lese majeste laws under which he was sentenced.  

Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in prison on January 19 for a passage in his book, Verisimilitude, which referred critically to an unnamed crown prince. He was originally arrested in August at Bangkok’s main international airport and spent more than five months in prison on charges that he criticized the Thai royal family. Thailand’s lese majeste laws are among the most severe in the world, allowing for three to 15 years in prison if found guilty of criticizing the king or royal institutions.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej issued a pardon for Nicolaides’ release on February 20 and he arrived in Melbourne the next day, according to international news reports.

“While we welcome the release of Harry Nicolaides, we strongly believe he never should have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia sepresentative. “Thai authorities have used his case to sow fear and confusion among local and foreign journalists who touch upon the monarchy and monarchical institutions in their reporting. It’s time for that cynical practice to stop.”

The growing and arbitrary use of the law by government officials, including three cases filed by a senior Thai police official against BBC Bangkok correspondent Jonathan Head, have had a chilling effect on the country’s media environment. CPJ met earlier this month with senior BBC editors to discuss mounting concerns about the law’s usage.

On January 27, CPJ wrote to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to express its concern about Thailand’s fast-deteriorating media climate, including growing censorship of the Internet to block materials critical of the Thai royal family.