Last night the ABC’s 7.30 Report had a story on Harry Nicolaides (transcript and video is available here). This story, and other recent press coverage, reflects a decision by Harry’s family and lawyers to place pressure on the Australian government to do more about his plight. This seems entirely reasonable. So far, the Australian government’s action on the issue has been procedural and bureaucratic. Fair enough. But now is the time for some higher level expressions of deep concern to the Thai government.

Talk of cultural sensitivity and respect for the laws of another country need to be placed in perspective. So far Harry has spent almost three months in jail having been refused bail on three occasions (according to the ABC report). The “crime” for which he is being held is trivial. What Harry did is simply this: he published one paragraph in a novel that referred, with some artistic license, to royal gossip and rumour within Thailand. He wrote this paragraph in a fictional context in a highly obscure book that, the ABC reports, only sold 10 of the 50 published copies. Australians, and the residents of most other countries, can read much more provocative and accurate things about their royals in mass circulation magazines every week.

It is only an anachronistic and bizarre law that raises this trivial act to the level of a criminal offence.

The Australian government should not be hiding behind procedural correctness. Australia has a role to promote and defend basic human rights in the region. Australia has excellent relations with Thailand. The current Prime Minister has made it clear, in various contexts, that good relations are not inconsistent with the vigorous expression of differences. Rudd, or Foreign Minister Smith, should be making political representations at the highest level to secure Harry’s release.