One paragraph? Three years in prison.

This story about the Australian writer Harry Nicolaides is frightening to anyone who picks up the pen and tries to put something to paper. Life is an influence on you and you can’t help but have life slip into your pages. You also can’t help but have opinion slip in, regardless of whether or not the opinion is even your own. In the course of writing you are bound to create many characters who say and do things which you may personally find reprehensible or wrong and would never dream of doing yourself. That’s just a fact with writing. In a weird way you do not always have control over what your characters say and do and other times they simply must say or do it for the integrity of the work.

I believe every writer does this with the belief that the work will stand on its own, for good or ill, and that the world will either accept it or ignore it. Of course, we know this isn’t always the truth.  In America, we have a long history of banning or attempting to ban a litany of books for a variety of reasons. What these reasons usually boil down to is that we simply disagree with the book and we know what’s best. So it’s better that no one else is exposed to this wrong thinking.

Rarely do we see something go to the extent of what someone like Salman Rushdie has endured. For over two decades he has endured a fatwa calling for his death because of “The Satanic Verses.”  Rushdie says to he lives openly now and doesn’t express much concern for the two decade old  decree by Ayatollah Khomeini but it’s also noted that the decree has never been lifted.

Now we see another author being imprisoned for a single paragraph in a book that sold 7 copies because it was pulled from shelves. In Thailand there is a law against bad mouting the royalty. It’s an old law  that everyone from the actual King to the Prime Minister says needs to be revised or outright eliminated because of its misuse (and outright ridiculousness). But nothing has happened.

Instead, they put someone else in jail for breaking this law. In one paragraph. In an entire book. That sold seven copies. I have to wonder what the punishment would have been if there had been two paragraphs that were disrespectful towards the royalty.


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