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Fed: Aussie author jailed for three years for Thai royal insult

By Jamie Duncan and Xavier La Canna
19 Jan 2009 8:04 PM

MELBOURNE, Jan 19 AAP/AP/AFP - An Australian writer who says he's endured "unspeakable suffering" in a Thai prison has been jailed for three years after pleading guilty to criminal charges of insulting the country's royal family.

But the family of Harry Nicolaides and his Australian lawyer hope a direct appeal for a pardon from the royal family may get the Melbourne-born author home.

Nicolaides, 41, appeared in court on Monday wearing a dark orange prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed and his feet shackled.

He has been in custody since his arrest at a Thai airport as he was about to board a plane for Melbourne in August last year.

"He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy," the judge told the court.

"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."

Leaving the court, Nicolaides told reporters: "I wish my family the best."

Nicolaides' brother, Forde, said even though his brother's sentence had been halved because of the guilty plea, the family was still upset at the outcome.

"We're devastated. You might be able to hear my mother crying in the background. It's quite devastating for us," he told AAP at home in Melbourne.

"The whole case has been a massive emotional ordeal that has consumed our entire family. It's beyond belief."

Entering court, Nicolaides said he had endured "unspeakable suffering" during his pre-trial detention but did not elaborate.

Nicolaides' Australian-based lawyer Mark Dean, SC, said he was "very pleased" with the verdict, the minimum sentence for the offence.

"This demonstrates the court's view of the seriousness of the offence and the personal circumstances faced by Harry," he told AAP.

He said Nicolaides would not appeal the verdict but would apply directly to the Thai royal family for a pardon.

Mr Dean said he hoped the royal family would take into account the sentence, which he said indicated the offence was at the "very low end of seriousness".

Nicolaides was arrested under Thailand's severe lese majeste laws, mandating a jail term of three to 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family, over his 2005 novel Verisimilitude.

His family said only 50 copies of the book were published and less than 10 sold.

Nicolaides, a Melbourne resident who lived in the constitutional monarchy from 2003 to 2005 where he taught at the Mae Fah Luang University, has described his novel as a commentary on political and social life of contemporary Thailand.

His offence is believed to have come from three sentences in the novel in which the narrator refers to rumours concerning a crown prince's love life.

The 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch, is revered in Thailand and credited with being a unifying force during times of crisis, though he has no major official role in politics.

Speaking before the sentencing, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Nicolaides had received Australian consular assistance but Australia must respect the Thai judicial process.

"The point is this - it is an offence under Thai law and Australia respects Thai laws and we respect the fact that one of our citizens is going through a legal and judicial process," he said.

Forde said he was worried about his brother's health and the mental trauma he had suffered.

"His health isn't that crash hot. He has had continuous flu-like symptoms since he has been incarcerated. He has lost a lot of weight. He can't eat the prison food," Forde said.