Jailed for three years in Bangkok last month for ‘insulting’ the Thai royal family in his novel
We’re woken at 6 and counted in the cell. Mine is 40ft long and 15ft wide, holding 50 or 60 prisoners, mostly Thais, mostly murderers and rapists. The cell has one toilet, which is a hole in the ground, and poor ventilation. I sleep in a face mask because tuberculosis and pneumonia are common. I’ve been in this jail for five months now since my arrest last September.
My book, Verisimilitude, was a rather clumsy first attempt at fiction — only 50 copies were printed, and seven sold. I love Thailand and respect the royal family. It was never my intention to offend anyone. I didn’t think what I wrote constituted lese-majesty. I’m an Australian who came to Thailand five years ago, and the passage in my book [alluding to the “romantic entanglements and intrigues” of the Thai monarchy] is no different from things I’ve heard Thai people say over and over again with impunity.
For breakfast I have a small carton of soya milk and a biscuit. Then the prisoners wash and shave around large troughs covered in mould and grime. The water’s changed once a week. Then there’s assembly. We stand to attention as the Thai flag is raised. We’re asked to sit and pray to a large gold Buddha. I use the time to collect my thoughts and think about my loved ones. Then the guards subject us to long speeches in Thai. I imagine they’re about prison etiquette.
I’m taken upstairs with other foreigners to clean another cell block. Then we’re at leisure for a while. I used to walk around, but I can’t help but encounter the weak and the feeble — like men with TB, languishing on benches. It deadens me. So I try to spend my time replying to the many letters I receive. Letters keep me alive.
We are allowed one 30-minute visit a day, but not on weekends or holidays. The hardest part is walking back to my cell after a visit from family or friends. I break down when I think how they’re suffering.
At 12 the lunch bell rings. The food’s mostly fish bones in hot water, extremely spicy, with rice. I’ve tried it and felt unwell. I can’t afford to fall sick — the mental strain is enough — so my family send me some chicken and a salad every day. It arrives at about 2. There are 20 or 25 cats, who run into the mess hall before the prisoners. Some men put cigarettes in the cats’ mouths or do other unspeakable things to them. For others the cats are a source of comfort in a place full of bitter, twisted people and feelings.
I’m barefoot 80% of my day. It’s partly a security measure so we can’t leap over the electrified, barbed-wire fence, and partly Thai custom. But the floors are covered with fish bones, saliva and cat vomit, so the soles of my feet are black.
I am led to court in shackles and chains. It’s positively medieval. They’re degrading and they bruise and lacerate the ankles. They make you feel you’re guilty.
They say that it’s easy to get to someone in a prison like this, so I’m always on the alert. I’ve met some colourful characters, like Viktor Bout, the suspected Russian arms dealer. He’s an unassuming, softly spoken man. He gave me some garlic the other day — and a manuscript of his life story to edit.
I haven’t looked at it yet. Lots of people give me manuscripts about their lives and cases. They’ve misunderstood that I’m a BBC journalist, of all things.
At 4pm we’re locked in the cells until 6am. That’s a very long time. My patch is about a foot wide, the length of my body. I cannot move to the left or right without pressing on another person. I cannot stretch out my legs without kicking someone.
On the king’s 81st birthday I saw fireworks in the distance. Some Thai prisoners had tears in their eyes, praising a man they regard not just as their king but their father. I may not be a subject of Thailand, but I am a son, and I know what it means to love a father. I’m applying for a royal pardon. I pray the king learns of my plight so I might enjoy his grace, as all his subjects do.
We must make our own provision for dinner. When I’ve finished my chicken, Thais beg for my scraps. The fluorescent lights stay on at night, so I sleep with a cardboard box over my head. I toss and turn on a thin mat on the hard floor. “And this too shall pass,” other foreigners tell me. It’s an old adage and true. But time passes very slowly here.
Interview by Andrew Marshall.
헤리 니콜레이드는 그의 첫 소설 ‘Verisimitude’ 가 타이 왕실을 모독한 것으로 고발되어 현재 방콕 감옥에 6개월째갇혀 있는 호주 작가입니다. 그는 최근 3년 형을 선고 받았으며 왕실에 ‘사면’ 해줄 것을 요청한 상태입니다. 왕실 모독법 고발 사례가 최근 증가하며 표현의 자유가 위협받고 있는 가운데 헤리 석방을 요구하는 목소리가 태국 내외로 확산되고 있습니다. 더 자세한 정보는 아래 사이트를 클릭하시면 보실 수 있습니다.
Harry Nicolaide, the Australian writer has been jailed in Bangkok since August 2008 as he was charged with Lese Majeste for his ‘clumsy’ book Verisimilitude. For more details, please click the below