Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has been jailed for three years in Thailand for insulting the Thai Crown Prince in his hugely unread 2005 novel, Verisimilitude. Cue much condemnation about harsh Thai justice and freedom of speech being curtailed. But is Harry the author of his own misfortune?

Harry’s plight is getting international media attention with Reporters Without Borders highlighting the case as “a strong violation of freedom of speech”. In Australia, Harry is being portrayed as a naïve innocent abroad who’s suddenly found himself thrust into a Kafka-esque nightmare. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has confirmed he’s written to the Thai Government to express “strong support” for Harry’s request for a Royal pardon. There’s a good chance a pardon will be granted. In 2007, Thailand’s King pardoned a Swiss man sentenced to 10 years jail for publicly defacing images of him.

So, in his own charming parlance — who the f-ck is Harry? Well, he’s an ex-Melbourne hotel concierge and, um,best selling Australian author”. With a penchant for Nicole Kidman’s buttocks. The Times in the UK notes he “wrote seedy columns about his escapades with Thai bar girls and serious articles about child pornography”. He does seem a little confused — condemning child p-rn but quite happy to admit he was attracted to a Thai prostitute radiating “the innocent charms of a 12-year-old girl”. He’s a puzzling contradiction — managing to write coherent pieces like this for The Age, yet also churning out rambling nonsense while in Thailand.

Reading Harry’s missives in a weekly column for a tourism website in Phuket, it’s clear he rather fancied himself as a Hunter S. Thompson-type, rattling around Thailand, indulging in all the bimbos and booze a few western dollars can buy. He thought he was being dangerous and edgy. In reality, it was all a bit sad.

Despite his protests, the English language teacher must have known Verisimilitude would cause trouble in the politically sensitive country, and he did his best to court controversy. Harry’s self-issued media release promoted his “savage, ruthless and unforgiving” novel as an uncompromising assault on the patrician values of the monarchy”. It’s unsurprising someone was offended, even if they weren’t one of the seven people who originally bought the self-published book. If Harry was looking to stir up some publicity, he’s certainly got it now.

Harry also claims he’s “not an agitator”. Hard to believe since this isn’t the first time he’s slammed a foreign country in print. This Harry-penned July 2007 New Statesman article slams Saudi Arabia as a conspiracy kingdom” — mostly based on gossip he heard while working as a teacher there — and paints a vivid picture of a country awash with illegal alcohol bootlegging, pornography, and beheadings of foreigners. At least he had the good sense to actually leave that “insular, suspicious” and “angerous” nation before the article was published.

Let’s not glorify the foolishness of this Australian abroad by claiming he’s a political prisoner and likening his plight to Salman Rushdie’s. Hopefully, Harry will be free soon. Being an awful wannabe gonzo writer isn’t a crime. Although perhaps it should be.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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