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Thailand frees Australian writer
Harry Nicolaides pardoned after spending five months in jail for "slandering the monarchy".
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2009 08:29 GMT
Lese majeste is a very serious offence in Thailand, where many consider the king semi-divine [Reuters]

An Australian writer jailed for insulting the Thai royal family has flown home to reunion with his family after being pardoned by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Harry Nicolaides arrived in the city of Melbourne on Saturday after spending five months in a Bangkok prison on charges of slandering the Thai monarchy.

Thai officials said Nicolaides, 41, was released from jail on Friday evening after officials approved a royal pardon - the result of intense lobbying by Canberra.

"I was informed I had a royal pardon and asked to kneel before a portrait of the king - a royal audience of sorts," Nicolaides said on arrival at Melbourne airport.

"A few hours before that I was climbing out of a sewerage tank that I fell into in the prison.

"I ran out of tears but I never ran out of hope or love."

Serious offfence

Nicolaides was sentenced to three years jail after pleading guilty to lese majeste, or slandering the monarchy, in his 2005  novel titled Verisimilitude.

Lese majeste  is a very serious offence in Thailand, where many people regard the 81-year-old Bhumibol as semi-divine.

It is punishable by up to 15 years in prison although convictions, especially of foreigners, are rare and are normally followed quickly by a pardon.

A spokesman from Australia's foreign affairs department said diplomats in Bangkok and Canberra had worked closely to resolve the writer's case.

Nicolaides, reunited with his family, was freed after intense Canberra lobbying [EPA]
Speaking at his son's side, Nicolaides' father Socrates said the ordeal had been a "living death" for the family.

"But now I feel I have come alive again," he said.

Nicolaides, who had previously worked as a university lecturer in Thailand, had been in prison since his arrest at Bangkok airport's departure lounge on August 31.

The charge against him related to a passage in Verisimilitude, of which Nicolaides says only a handful of copies were sold.

"My book, Verisimilitude, was a rather clumsy first attempt at fiction - only 50 copies were printed and seven sold," he said, in a piece dictated from his prison cell earlier this month.

Previous arrests

A Swiss man, Roland Jufer, was sentenced to 10 years' jail in 2007 for spraying black paint on pictures of the king but was pardoned at Thai New Year in mid-April after serving only four months. Jufer was deported as soon as he was released.

A prominent Thai leftist academic, who was charged with lese majeste for comments made in a 2007 book about the previous year's military coup, said he could not get a fair trial in Thailand and fled to London earlier this month.

Thailand has some of the strictest laws in the world protecting revered  and his family from insult, but  media freedom groups have accused authorities of abusing the law to  suppress dissent.

Thai authorities have banned nearly 4,000 websites in recent  months for allegedly insulting the monarchy. Police said last week  that more than 17 criminal cases of insulting the royal family are  currently active.

Source:
Agencies
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