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Australian author arrested on lèse-majesté charge, denied bail

(RSF/IFEX) - Australian author Harry Nicolaides, who has been held since 31 August 2008 on a lèse-majesté charge over a passage in his 2005 novel "Verisimilitude" that criticises the king's eldest son, Bhumibol Adulyadej, issued a public apology during a meeting with Reporters Without Borders in Bangkok's main prison.

"I am sorry that my words may have hurt," he said during the interview. "It was not my intention to attack His Majesty the king or his kingdom. I am a writer and I wrote what I had heard many Thais say. I thought it was acceptable. I made a mistake."

He told Reporters Without Borders that only 50 copies of his novel were printed and only seven copies were ever sold. "As a writer, my role was to present my work to others in order to get their views on it. In the 300 pages, only three lines are about the prince, who is not mentioned by name. I said he had been married and that his former wife had to leave Thailand. I did not think there was any problem, as I had sent my book to the National Library and I got an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)."

He was arrested for lèse-majesté under article 112 of the criminal code on 31 August, when he went to Bangkok airport to get a flight back to Australia. His request to be released on bail on 2 September was rejected on the grounds that he might try to skip the country.

Reporters Without Borders said: "His passport is being held by the authorities so it would be impossible for him to flee. Furthermore, his detention is illegal as he has not yet been formally charged. We call for his immediate release."

Nicolaides wants to submit another conditional release request. If his case goes to trial, he faces the possibility of a prison sentence of between three and 15 years. He has been allowed a visit from his brother and his partner. Foreign journalists have also been able to interview him.

Nicolaides added: "I know the importance of respecting this country's traditions, customs and expectations. I am not an agitator."

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