At least this isn’t Thailand

Bo Gemmell

Despite all the nonsense in the United States, at least we can laugh about Jimmy Carter’s ugly cardigan sweater, George Bush’s pretzel incident and Barack Obama’s cigarette problem.

Things are different in Thailand where the country’s lŠse-majesté laws can put any person found guilty of insulting the king in prison.

Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code states, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, the heir-apparent or the regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”

The most recent victim of this law is Australian writer Harry Nicolaides, who lived in Thailand from 2003 to 2005. Nicolaides wrote and self-published a novel in 2005. The novel, “Verisimilitude,” sold a whopping seven copies. According to BBC News, the only surviving copy rests in the Thai National Library and is available to the public.

Authorities arrested Nicolaides last year in a Bangkok airport as he prepared for a flight back to Melborne. Al-Jazeera reported that Nicolaides was unaware that a warrant was placed for his arrest in March.

He pleaded guilty last month and received the minimum sentence of three years over a passage in “Verisimilitude.” The passage, which is shorter than this column, allegedly defamed an unnamed Crown Prince by mentioning his “romantic entanglements and intrigues.”

Visitors of Thailand, especially Westerners accustomed to free speech, should be weary of the different laws. With the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s prediction of continuing increases in the number of U.S. tourists, Thailand’s lŠse-majesté law isn’t something American tourists should ignore.

Despite its status as a parliamentary democracy, Thailand’s continued suppression of free speech makes the country a place any free-thinking person should avoid. The blame shouldn’t be placed on the king, who merely serves as a figurehead in this constitutional monarchy. Forms of the lŠse-majesté law date back to 1908, according to the BBC.

As much as I’d love to insult King Bhumibol Adulyadej from the comfort of my desk in Ohio, I really don’t think he seems that bad. In his 2005 royal birthday address, Adulyedej spoke against the tradition that the king can’t be criticized in monarchies.

“If you say that the king cannot be criticized, it suggests that the king is not human. If (critics) get sent to prison, I pardon them. If they don’t go to prison, I won’t sue them,” he said in the address.

In fact, Adulyadej has pardoned foreigners in the past. In 2007 a Swiss national received a 10-year prison sentence for spray-painting portraits of the king while intoxicated. Adulyadej pardoned him the next month.

Only time will tell if the king pardons Nicolaides, but it seems the 100-year tradition of lŠse-majesté has done the country more harm than good. Although American news networks haven’t given much coverage to the case of Nicolaides, BBC and Al-Jazeera pounced on the opportunity to highlight the archaic law that caused the non-violent novelist’s imprisonment. The media coverage surely won’t help Thailand’s economy, which depends on tourism.

While authors escorted Nicolaides to court he told reporters, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” He couldn’t be more correct.

Bo Gemmell is a junior news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].