HARRY’S legal team lodged a pardon application last Wednesday with the Thai royal palace. After his conviction on Monday 19 January to six years in prison, that was reduced to three, because he pleaded guilty to a charge of lese majeste (offending the royal family), Harry Nicolaides’ last resort to be released is to be granted a royal pardon. In another recent case of a foreign national being charged with lese majeste in Thailand a royal pardon was accorded. In 2007 Swiss national Oliver Jufer was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for defacing with black paint portraits of the Thai King. Eventually he was pardoned and released from jail after four months of incarceration.
However, a Thai expert cautions that a pardon for Harry is not an open and shut case.
Senior Fellow at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University and a close observer of Thai politics, Dr Andrew Walker pointed out to Neos Kosmos English Edition that what has changed in the past 12 months after the case of Oliver Jufer is that the discussion about the role of the monarchy in Thailand has become an even more of a taboo topic.
“This is due to two reasons,” explained Dr Walker “the recent political turmoil in Thailand has generated increasing discussion about the role of the palace in that political conflict…this new government in Thailand is a strongly royalist government and they have put the defence of the reputation of the monarch as their absolute number one priority,” emphasised Dr Walker. “Of course, a royal pardon is a royal decision, not necessarily a government decision… but these things are linked up and there might be some view in Thailand that they should stick with the sentence [Harry’s sentence] and send this message out to the international community,” he added.
Dr Walker was also critical of the public line that the Australian government adopted in the case of Harry, distinguishing from the behind the scenes diplomacy and representations that it has undertaken. “This line that was also reaffirmed by recent statements of Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith is that we need to respect the laws of Thailand and the legal processes and my view is that when it comes to a law which clearly breaches people’s basic human rights which is a law about repressing freedom of speech then we don’t necessarily have to respect that… we should be speaking out vigorously and condemning it,” stressed Dr Walker. He highlighted the fact that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has consistently criticised China for human rights abuses, therefore this case should not be any different.
Indicative of the reluctance shown by the Australian government even to talk about the obscure lese majeste law when asked accordingly by a journalist during a press conference last Monday, Mr Smith replied: “The Australian Government’s view on that charge is that it is an offence under Thai law. An Australian citizen who’s travelling to Thailand has been charged under that law, and he is subject to the judicial and legal processes of Thailand.”
Commenting on the recent developments in the case, Mr Smith revealed to NKEE through a written statement that the Australian government will support Harry’s effort to secure a royal pardon. “I raised Mr Nicolaides’ case with then Thai Foreign Minister Sompong when we met at APEC in November last year. Now that the legal processes before Thailand’s Courts have concluded, Australian officials have advised Thai officials that the Australian Government strongly supports Mr Nicolaides’ plea for pardon.
I wrote to Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya outlining the Australian Government’s strong support for Mr Nicolaides’ pardon application to the King of Thailand.” reads the statement.
Given Australia’s government public unwillingness to chastise Thailand for it’s arbitrary enforcement and prosecution of lese majeste charges, Independent Senator from Adelaide Nick Xenophon voiced his concern to NKEE regarding Harry’s case. “Enough is enough… what he’s gone through is a great injustice,” underscored Mr Xenophon. “The Australian government needs to act decisively. It is time for some straight talk. The Rudd government needs to make it clear to the Thai government that Australia will not accept the incarceration of Harry Nicolaides,” he added. The Independent Senator indicated that Harry wrote a fictional book for which he was prosecuted under the lese majeste charge and that this can not “cost a man three years of his life in a Thai prison.” The charge relates to a 2005 book that Harry wrote with the title Versimilitude containing a paragraph of no more than 100 words that briefly referred to the Thai royal family. The book was only published in 50 copies with only seven ever being sold.
Federal Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou added her voice of concern for Harry’s plight. “I remain very concerned about Harry’s predicament. I am certain the past months have been impossible for Harry and his family. I join with many other Australians who would like to see Harry return to his family as soon as possible. I sincerely hope that his plea for a pardon is successful and will do whatever I can to support that process.”
Amnesty International Australia was contacted by NKEE regarding Harry’s case and issued the following statement: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and Thailand is a party to a key international human rights treaty guaranteeing this right. We are concerned at the three-year sentence that Harry Nicolaides recently received in the Bangkok Criminal Court for this offence. We call on the Australian Government to continue its efforts to secure Mr Nicolaides’ release.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) vehemently denies any lack of interest in Harry’s case. A spokesperson for DFAT reiterated that “Mr Nicolaides is subject to the Thai judicial process, the Government cannot control or intervene in that process, or the judicial process of any other foreign country,” said DFAT’s spokesperson adding that the Travel Advice for Thailand provides a specific warning to Australians about the penalties that apply under Thai law for insulting the Thai Monarchy. However, DFAT insists that the “Australian Ambassador and his Embassy colleagues have made more than 30 representations to senior Thai authorities on the case including: senior Thai MFA officials on 3 October, 8 October, 8 October, 10 November, 17 December 2008, 12 January and 21 January 2009, Secretary General to the Prime Minister on 27 October 2008
Thai Foreign Minister on 17 November 2008, Director General of the Department of Corrections and the head of DFAT’s Consular Division raised the case with the Thai Ambassador on 14 November 2008.”
The same spokesperson also stated that the Australian Embassy in Bangkok is providing a high level of consular support to Mr Nicolaides through frequent visits to him in the prison. Australian consular staff are visiting him weekly, compared to monthly visits for long-term Australian prisoners in Thailand and as of 22 January 2009, they have visited him 26 times at the prison, taking up with the Thai authorities any health or welfare concerns Mr Nicolaides raises.”