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AN Australian Cypriot has been arrested in Thailand on a charge of defaming the country’s monarchy.

A Melbourne resident, Harry Nicolaides lived in Thailand from 2003 to 2005, teaching at a university in the northern city of Chiang Rai and writing a weekly column for Phuketinfo.com.

The 41-year-old, born to Greek Cypriot parents who emigrated to Australia in 1955, was detained when he tried to fly out from Bangkok last Sunday.

“An arrest warrant was issued in March for a book he wrote in 2005 deemed defamatory to the crown prince,” Police Lieutenant-Colonel Boonlert Kalayanamit told Reuters.

He has been charged with lèse-majesté, a crime that can carry a 15-year jail sentence in Thailand, and was being held at a remand prison pending further interviews, Boonlert said.

The charge was provoked by a passage in his 2005 novel Verisimilitude.

In an interview to The Weekend Australian, Nicolaides said: “I wrote that from King Rama, and I didn’t say which King Rama, to the Crown Prince, Thai men are well-known for having multiple wives and concubines for entertainment.”

Nicolaides said the passage was in the form of “an omniscient narrator passing a rumour to the protagonist ... it’s a work of imaginative fiction.”

He acknowledges, however, that the passage offended Thai culture and tradition.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but has severe lèse-majesté laws, mandating a jail term of three to 15 years for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent.”

Actual prosecutions are relatively rare, usually a handful each year, in a country where the 80-year-old king is almost universally revered as a selfless and hardworking benefactor of the people.

It is not yet clear why it has taken several years for Nicolaides to be arrested.

He described his appalling prison conditions and pleaded to be allowed to apologise.

“I want to immediately apologise to the royal family for my reckless choice of words,” he said from Bangkok Remand Prison.

“I want to write a comprehensive letter with the greatest humility to the Thai people for the way the Thai press presented what was written in the book.”

Bail of 500,000 baht (€10,000) raised by his girlfriend and her friends has been refused.

Nicolaides said he entered the prison on Monday a healthy man, but he now had swollen lymph glands, chest pains, constipation and stomach cramps and could not eat.

Almost all the other inmates in his cell were coughing and wheezing, he said. “There is a rumour going around that some of them will be transferred to the tuberculosis ward, which is terribly overcrowded.”

Nicolaides’ 82-year-old father Takis was quoted in the local press as saying: “My son loves Thailand, travels there often, and helps their children to learn English.”

His mother, Despina, also spoke out, saying that, “he hasn’t done anything wrong, apart from being careless, simply giving his opinion on a subject he should have spoken more carefully about.”

She added that nobody was being allowed to speak with him.

In a statement, the NGO Reporters Without Borders, which advocates freedom of the press, issued a statement condemning Nicolaides’ arrest.

“Thailand’s lèse-majesté legislation is one of the strictest in the world and is often responsible for free speech violations. Nicolaides is aware of the limits on criticism in Thailand. His novel never intended to threaten or defame the royal family. We call on the authorities to drop the charges against him and to release him.”

Cyprus Mail 7/9/2008 , By Leo Leonidou
|||Cypriot faces 15 years jail in Thailand
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