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Writer jailed for insulting Thai monarch

AN Australian writer was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for insulting Thailand's royal family in his novel, a rare conviction of a foreigner amid a crackdown on people and Websites deemed critical of the monarchy.

Bangkok's Criminal Court sentenced Harry Nicolaides to six years behind bars but reduced the term because he had entered a guilty plea, the judge said.

Nicolaides, a 41-year-old from Melbourne, was charged with insulting Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the crown prince in his 2005 book "Verisimilitude," a piece of fiction that only sold seven copies.

"This can't be real. It feels like a bad dream," a tearful Nicolaides told reporters yesterday.

A passage in the book that discussed the personal life of a fictional prince "suggested that there was abuse of royal power," the presiding judge told the court. The prosecutor warned reporters afterward that the law prohibited publication and repetition of the material deemed offensive.

Thailand's lese-majeste law mandates a penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent."

Until recently, prosecutions under the law have been uncommon - usually a handful a year - in a country where King Bhumibol is almost universally revered.

But questions about the monarchy have assumed a higher profile lately as consideration is given to the eventual succession of the 81-year-old king, the world's longest serving head of state and the only monarch most Thais have ever lived under.

Although he is a constitutional monarch who reigns but does not rule, Bhumibol has since the 1960s held substantial political influence, usually exercised only in times of crisis.

Shackled at the ankles and handcuffed, Nicolaides said he felt "dreadful" as guards escorted him out of the courtroom. "I would like to apologize," he said, adding that he had "unqualified respect for the king" and had not intended to insult him.


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