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Thailand pardons jailed Australian writer

world Updated: Feb 21, 2009 22:46 IST

An Australian writer jailed for insulting the Thai royal family was expected to arrive home Saturday after being pardoned by the king and freed from jail, officials said.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, was last month sentenced to three years in jail by a Bangkok court after pleading guilty to lese majeste, or slandering the monarchy.

Australia had lobbied intensely for a royal pardon, and Thai officials told AFP Nicolaides was released Friday evening.

"He was released from prison yesterday evening after the royal pardon was approved," Nathee Chitsawang, director general of Thailand's Corrections Department, told AFP.

A spokesman from Australia's foreign affairs department said diplomats in Bangkok and Canberra were working with Nicolaides' family on arrangements for the writer's return home.

"We appreciate the expeditious handling of the pardon by Thai authorities," the spokesman said.

"The Australian government and the Thai government have been working together very closely on the resolution of Harry's case," said Nicolaides' lawyer, Mark Dean.

Nicolaides' brother Forde Nicolaides said the family was "ecstatic" at the outcome, and expected the writer to arrive in Australia Saturday afternoon.

"Our emphasis to the Thai government was ... for them to consider Harry's case compassionately and expeditiously," he told national newswire AAP.

"I think everyone was on the same page, as they have been reasonably expeditious with the application. We are very grateful for that."

Nicolaides said his brother had called from Bangkok airport late Friday and assured him he was "reasonably fit despite his ordeal."

"He is in good spirits and looking forward to arriving home. He cannot wait to see his family."

Nicolaides, who had previously worked as a university lecturer in Thailand, has been in prison since his arrest at Bangkok airport's departure lounge on August 31.

The charge against him related to a passage in a novel published in 2005, of which Nicolaides' says only a handful of copies were sold.

"My book, Verisimilitude, was a rather clumsy first attempt at fiction -- only 50 copies were printed and seven sold," he said, in a piece dictated from his prison cell earlier this month.

"On the King's 81st birthday I saw fireworks in the distance. Some prisoners had tears in their eyes, praising a man they regard not just as their king but their father."

"I may not be Thai, but I am a son, and I know what it means to love a father. I am applying for a royal pardon. I pray the king learns of my plight so I might enjoy his grace."

Thailand has some of the strictest laws in the world protecting revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family from insult, but media freedom groups have accused authorities of abusing the law to suppress dissent.

Thai authorities have banned nearly 4,000 websites in recent months for allegedly insulting the monarchy. Police said last week that more than 17 criminal cases of insulting the royal family are currently active.