Harry Nicolaides and the Lese Majeste Law

In August 2008, Harry Nicolaides, a self-published author and university lecturer, was arrested at the airport in Bangkok for allegedly committing lese-majeste. According to the police, a paragraph in his little read book published a few years ago was slanderous towards the Crown Prince. Harry was denied bail and has been sitting in an overcrowded cell for nearly five months awaiting trial. He initially pleaded not-guilty saying that he was unaware of the strict lese-majeste law.

Although I feel sorry for the guy, it is hard to believe that a teacher and a writer could know so little about the culture of Thailand. If you check any “Do’s and Dont’s” list for Thailand, you will always see mention of this: “Do not insult the monarchy”. In fact, most books go on to say that you should avoid any discussion of the monarchy which could be seen as criticism. In Thailand, lese-majeste is a serious offence. It doesn’t matter if you are Thai or not. In 2007, Oliver Rudolf Jufer from Switzerland was sentenced to ten years for spraying graffiti over portraits of H.M. The King. He was later pardoned.

Although I admire the tireless work of H.M. The King and the royal family, I feel very scared about the lese majeste law in Thailand. Anyone can lodge a charge of lese majeste against anyone. A few months back, someone didn’t stand up for the King’s anthem at the start of a movie and another patron called the police. Opposition politicians tried to bring down the government by charging them with saying something against the monarchy. PM’s Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair was forced to resign because of a speech he made to foreign correspondents. Even Jonathan Head, the Bangkok bureau chief for the BBC has been charged with lese majeste recently for a report he filed. A few days ago, someone was arrested for writing something against the King on the Internet. What he wrote and where we don’t know and will probably never know. For newspapers to print the charges in full is lese majeste in itself. A media mogul has already been charged for doing this.

To be clear, here is the law in question:

Section 112: Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.

Luckily for Harry, he changed his plea to guilty at the last moment. As a consequence, the judge decided to halve his sentence. However, the news wasn’t good for him or his family in Australia:

“He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years,” a judge told the court. “He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy,” the judge added. (Source: Bangkok Post)

As a blogger in Thailand I have two problems here. I cannot quote the short paragraph in Harry’s book. If I do then I am committing lese majeste even though I would state I don’t agree with the paragraph in question. My second problem in writing about this case is that I cannot comment on the decision of the judge or the sentence given. If I do, I could face charges of “contempt of court” and be sent straight to prison. I will also lock the comments section. If someone posts something bad about the royal family and I am slow to delete it, then I too could be arrested. It would be wise for me not to say anything. However, I would ask for everyone to take this case as a good lesson.


I am going to finish by quoting Section 133 of the Criminial Code. It shows that Thailand also respects the Royal Families and Head of States of other countries:

Section 133: Whoever, defaming, insulting or threatening the Sovereign, Queen, Consort, Heir-apparent or Head of Foreign State, shall be imprisoned from one to seven years or fined from two thousand to fourteen thousand baht, or both.

So, be careful what you say aginst the Queen of England or the President of the United States! You should also take note of section 135 as that forbids the burning of flags as you could face two years in prison. I think we had a flag burning demonstration outside the US embassy recently in Bangkok. If you are American, I guess you could just go to the local police station and lay charges.

Stay safe and long live H.M. The King of Thailand.

(Picture credits: Reuters)

Related Blog: Thai Royal Family and Lese Majeste

15 responses to “Harry Nicolaides and the Lese Majeste Law

  1. sorry but this one as we say here is pure gotcha bullshit, regardez : According to my research Harry Nicolaides ‘took the precaution of sending his book to…the Thai Ministry of Culture, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of the Royal Household to check that its contents were acceptable’ before publishing.


    He WAS respectful and obviously cared about ‘geographical sensitiveness'(sic). Would you prefer that he read the book aloud to the royal family ?

  2. He probably knew what he was writing about and being in his position working in a Thai university, he ought to have known the repercussions of writing what he wrote. He is just like many typical Aussies – no respect for the monarchy.

  3. I think it is great that there is someone that write about this things in difficult times like this.

    Thanks a lot:


  4. You failed to mention leading Thai academic Giles Ji Ungkaporn’s recent arrest under lese majeste. Giles wrote a book 3 years ago but has only just been charged. I’ve read a lot of stuff written by Giles and while he examines the role of the monarchy he is not overly-critical or slanderous. He is, however, very critical of the PAD, the elite and the military. I also know, for 100% certainty, that Amnesty International are very likely to pick up Giles case should it proceed. This in turn will lead to a thorough examination in the international media of the lese majeste law and the Thai royal family. Given how news and information travels the globe Giles’ prosecution will ultimately have a far more damaging impact than tolerating opposing views.
    As for Harry – I believe his book (which sold 7copies) is actually available in one of the national libraries which is an eyebrow raiser.
    The truth is that the lese majeste law itself is completely undemocratic and is being increasingly politicised. Harry’s incarceration has been a useful tool to send out a message to the international media in Thailand. Yet, it will only draw down more fire from beyond the borders of the kingdom.

  5. Not my Real Name

    I am a farang blogger inside Thailand and I can tell you that I am scared to write and comment on subjects like this. Big Brother is watching. It is like the 1950’s McCarthy Witch Hunts all over again. If I piss someone off then they might report me to the police. Be careful everyone.

  6. Sadness fills my heart. I hope that Reporters without Borders and Amnesty will take Giles case. In sense, I do hope he will get prison sentence. But well, who cares, not a single Kingdom fearing Thai or their cheering foreign friends.

    I do want to rise lese majeste charges against Thai news papers and websites for slandering US president George W. Bush. I don’t understand why no single Thai person who is clear minded about this issue has not tried to make that way a simple point?

  7. I am also another ex-pat living in Thailand, but I would have to say that in the current political climate tourists and those comtemplating working in Thailand should NOT come here. The lese-majeste law is abhorent and the fact that it is being used with increasing frequency and that the Thai Ministry of Culture is now blocking over 2000 websites for statements they perceive as critical of the monarchy should be two warning signs that political repression is increasing. At least once a week another important Thai figure is accused of lese-majeste. If you are arrested for lese-majeste as a foreigner you would not be granted bail, as the Harry Nicolaides case demonstrates. Furthermore, the northern and northeastern regions of Thailand are about ready to explode in violent confrontations with the current government, and unlike with the PAD protests of August-December 2008 it seems more likely that these new protests, if they come to Bangkok, will be suppressed with large scale police and military action.

    I want to also correct the notion that flag burning is illegal in the United States. Time and again such laws and ordinances have been struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because they violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. You are also free to say or write whatever you like about any royals anywhere in the world without fear of criminal charges (and only very slight fears of being sued for libel or slander), but be careful where you travel to after you do.

  8. Stop Thai Oppression

    A clean copy of the banned book book can be downloaded on the internet. In google search for “Harry Nicolaides verisimilitude download book”. Once you read the tiny paragraph this man wrote (pg 65 of PDF) you will be even more outraged…

  9. I with we had similar law’s in the US. Possibly not to the same exrent but I do believe we have travelled to far down the road of “I can do what I want, say what I want” Along with freedom should come responsibility and we have forgotten this.

  10. Poor old Harry

    This is terrible. See Harry’s video on YouTube on the day of his sentencing – tear-jerker. Sorry to say it, but this is only harming the reptution of Thailand’s highest institition.

  11. News just in… German man arrested for lese majeste after sleeping during the anthem in a Bangkok cinema:


  12. Not going to say

    Personally, I hope that there are more and more of these arrests.

    I wish there were some high profile reporters who would report exactly what is going on here. I hope they are arrested, and imprisoned.

    This can only lead to outrage from the rest of the world, and a greater exploration of these ridiculous laws, news of which will undoubtedly leak into the kingdom.

    More and more pressure will be placed on the Thai government to repeal this law, and the corrupt links between the government, military and royal privy council will finally be exposed.

    All we need are some reporters with the balls needed to become an icon.

    Harry, unwittingly, has taken the first step.

  13. Let harry go home.

  14. Having downloaded Verisimilitude and read the offending paragraph, my conclusion is that Harry Nicolaides was at best unwise .

    The offending paragraph clearly breached the “Lese Majeste” law of which he should have been aware of and its consequences. Irrespective of his guilty plea at his trial it doesn’t appear that he intended his words to be malicious or libellous.

    Whilst there is no question that the letter of the law was broken, in terms of pure natural justice however, three years ( on top of the 5 months spent in Prison awaiting trial) for a dozen lines in a novel seems to me , unduly harsh. It comes down to the old maxim that “Justice not only must be done, but most importantly, be seen to be done”

    Straight away, I know there will be both Thais and Farang who will say this criticism of Nicolaide’s Prison sentence is just the mutterings of another ignorant Farang interfering in Thai life and not comprehending the great love Thai people have for the royal family. Of course that’s just a load of sanctimonious codswallop.

    Why do I say sanctimonious? OK, has anybody even questioned where Nicolaides sourced the libellous paragraph? I doubt if It was taken from any book or other publication.

    No, I would hazard a guess and say that he sourced it from the general gossip, scuttlebutt and general rumours that Thai’s engage in on a daily basis. It struck me after reading the paragraph, that I have on many occasions heard ordinary Thais from Bangkok to Nong Khai discussing the same rumour and others like it. Even many of the Thais (and also “more Thai than Thai” Expats) who defend the Prison sentence probably have heard some of these rumours. But most importantly, my experience has been that the rumours in general are accepted as true.

    Are the offending lines in the book true? How the hell would I know? What I do know is that Harry Nicolaides is serving three years in Prison for writing something that countless Thais have been saying in private for years.

    Again this is one of things about this affair that really frustrates me ( not as much as the injustice of the prison sentence) is the intellectual sloth that pervades Thailand. Nothing is debated or questioned. But of course with the Fascists from the PAD now calling the shots and talk of the “Lese Majeste” penalty being increased to 25 years its probably wise for Thais to keep their own counsel.

    Over this affair and others like it is a balloon filled with sanctimonious Thai and Expat hot air. Long overdue I feel for somebody to stick it with a pin

  15. I read a peer-reviewed article extremely critical of the Thai monarchy from the extensive journal database of my (American) university. It had been written by a Thai scholar. I doubt this article has been read extensively and I seriously doubt the author in question ever intends to return to Thailand. If this article were openly published in Thailand it would cause an uproar. It is safely ensconced and tucked away in some academic journal that holds little interest for most American scholars. It was very revealing.