I’ve been putting this article off. Partly because it’s about a man in jail whose chances of release
I know Harry Nicolaides. And I have a copy of his book, Verisimilitude.
Harry probably doesn’t remember me. I met him in early 2006 in Chiang Rai while shooting an unfinished documentary on the hill tribes who had suffered the brunt of then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s crackdown on drug dealers. As is well documented, the majority of the "dealers" who were killed were hill tribe members who had little or no connection to the drug trade.
Harry was working as an English teacher at the time. I found him through another Aussie expat who was doing some media work in Northern Thailand. I was looking for someone who could speak English and knew his way around the hilly regions. That was Harry — a man who loved Thailand, who was clearly trying to build a new life for himself and to understand his new home.
It’s worth noting at this point that Harry is not a bad writer. Verisimilitude is his second book, the first being a humorous collection of lightly fictionalised anecdotes from his earlier life as a concierge in Melbourne called Concierge Confidential.
Verisimilitude is a book in need of an editor, certainly. But it’s a book written for the Thai expat readership — a thriving market for pulpy novels that are mostly about dislocated Westerners dealing with life in Thailand. There’s a lot of crime, betrayal, prostitution, mysterious women and violent retribution in there. It’s also a fairly direct-to-consumer market, without a great deal of editorial oversight. Trawl through the print-on-demand section of Amazon and you’ll get the idea.
Verisimilitude is mostly about a Westerner dealing with the emotional fallout of a relationship with a Thai woman who has been lying about her fidelity. I never asked Harry whether it was autobiographical, I read the book on the bus back to Bangkok after I’d left. The protagonist is grappling with different cultural expectations, his own naivety, the feverish aura of Thai sexuality and the reality of his relationship. He is particularly struggling with the idea of "keeping face".
The section in question refers to the (unnamed) crown prince and his romantic predilections. I’m not going to repeat it, but Wikileaks has the paragraph here
At that point (late 2005) the charge of lèse-majesté — insulting the dignity of a sovereign — was being thrown around by Thaksin and various media figures. Thaksin in particular was using it against opponents of his media control including Sondhi Limthongkul
In what sounds like a classic defence of freedom of speech, King Bhumibol Adulyadej said: "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know … But the King can do wrong."
It seems at this point Harry is likely to receive a royal pardon,
I met Harry when there was a genuine feeling that a more relaxed attitude to public speech was becoming the norm. I hope those days return.
Reporters Without Borders currently have a campaign in support of Harry Nicolaides.
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