Tomorrow 830am Bangkok South Criminal Court I become the main subject of a criminal trial for the second time in Thailand as the only defendant in the case Natural Fruit Company Ltd. vs. Andrew Jonathan Hall (Black Case 517/2556 – see http://www.andyjhall.wordpress.com). It seems such a long time ago since I found out in February 2013, whilst sitting on my bed and browsing my emails after a long day of work as an Advisor to the Myanmar Government on migration in Yangon (Myanmar), that I had been prosecuted by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. in a computer crimes and criminal defamation case with a maximum penalty if found guilty by the court of 7 years imprisonment, and alongside that a 300 million baht civil defamation claim.
I still remember the feeling when I saw the email sent to me by a UK journalist researching the Finnwatch report on conditions at Natural Fruit factory, who had been informed of the prosecution in an email from the company as their response to his questions. I remember a kind of disbelief, a sense of unfairness or injustice, that the company would invoke such strong criminal laws against me. I even felt angry and bitter against Natural Fruit Company. I was not a criminal, and all I had done was research about migrant working conditions in Thailand. I had also clearly not written the final report that Finnwatch published, or uploaded it onto the internet, as I was charged. However, the Court eventually indicted me in August 2015 on both criminal charges and by January 2016 my passport had been confiscated and a block placed on my travelling overseas unless the Court permitted me to do so.
Indeed, from 2014 when the first criminal cases against me commenced (discussed below), I had no choice but to leave or remain in Thailand. If I left the country, as others have, I could never come back as I would have breached the conditions of my temporary release on bail pending trial for the multiple charges against me. That was too much of a loss for me and what i stand for. If I stayed, I would only ever be able to leave the country for a few days at a time with court granted permission. So for that reason, my work and new life in Myanmar soon ended.
Whilst the feeling of injustice has lessened over the years and the feelings of anger or bitterness against Natural Fruit Company long dissipated, only those of us subject to these cases of judicial harassment or even persecution know the feeling deep down inside of us that a burden remains on our shoulders, in our hearts and amongst out spirit, that what we face is an injustice. It kind of makes you more tired, reduces the freedom and happiness of everyday life, and most of all there remains a desire to overcome the injustice and prove yourself both in a court of law and to the public, to show people what we are really about. Every time I had to request the court to ravel overseas or return my passport to the Court, the feelings of injustice are strengthened, but I try to let that pass.
As for Natural Fruit Company, when I saw their owners and executives in the Court, I didn’t feel any anger or hate against them now. I many times tried to smile or show that I am just a human being like them, just a human rights or migrant rights activist who sought to make the world a better place, lessen injustice, and give voice to migrant workers who reported to me that they were suffering against abuse at the factory. I imagine that the sense of injustice, anger, hate or revenge that the owners of Natural Fruit and its executives must perhaps feel against me would not be a nice feeling for them to hold either. Feeling anger or hatred makes our world a darker place, holding on to those negative emotions is a waste of energy or life that I myself have always prioritised as feelings to reduce or get rid of in my own everyday life. Actually, maybe its patronising or arrogant, but I felt sympathy for Natural Fruit Company and its owners for the actions they have taken by choosing to prosecute me in the way they have, and I truly believe they have caused their own sufferings in more ways than I ever could through this legal battle.
I feel every day for my parents and family, as I know that for them, the cases against me are worrying, they can loose the sleep and concentration or enjoyment in their everyday life, they feel scared by the threat of imprisonment hanging over me in a culture or society they don’t really understand. Its another weight on our shoulders knowing that we too are responsible for the suffering of other people closest to us too, but I know if my parents and friends can take the time and concentration to look deeply, they would support the work I have done for a decade in Thailand on migrant rights and understand that every cloud has a silver lining, and despite the suffering, the cases against me can be seen in a positive light as something that raised attention to migrant rights violations in Thailand, the very vulnerable position of human rights defenders and taught me how to be stronger, more committed and more focused on what matters. The case has surely taught other companies too that prosecuting rights activists and researchers is not the way to go.
As mentioned above, Natural Fruit Company Ltd. went on to file two more cases against me in July 2014 and again later after that, one for criminal defamation for an interview I gave to Aljazeera in Myanmar about the original prosecutions against me, and another 100 million baht civil defamation case for damages the company said it incurred from that interview. Despite the criminal defamation case being dismissed in October 2014 after a 6 day criminal trial, and then again in September 2015 by the Appeals Court, the Attorney General of Thailand and Natural Fruit Company Ltd. have appealed the dismissals to the Supreme Court. So still 4 cases ongoing.
Tomorrow I will begin my trial knowing that its the natural process of life to face such challenges. Never once did I think to run away from the case or from Thailand, from migrant rights issues, despite some people told me to find the better place and situation to that I face today somewhere else in the big expanse of the world around us. I always stand strong in my belief, as I explained to the MWRN team, the 1000s of migrant workers I have met over the years and my friends and colleagues that in the face of human rights violations, if we dare and commit our time and energy to stand up and fight, together and in solidarity against them, we will be successful. Maybe not always, maybe not every day, but eventually. Feelings of fear, frustration, anger or suffering will come but they will also go if we concentrate on them as impermanent feelings. As quickly as we feel sad, we can feel happy. As quickly as we felt without energy, we can be full of energy.
I have enjoyed support from around the world and all around me in this case. I guess the support starts from my family Desmond Hall Jo Clay Emily Clay and friends, those closest to me, and that keeps me most strong. MW RN has been the focus of all my efforts for many years and the reward in seeing its growth and becoming ever stronger the main source of my inspiration to move forward Sein Htay Sun Aye Mar Cho Aung Kyaw Mwrn But of course Finnwatch has always stood beside me too, and in many ways I still thank Sonja Vartiala and her team Anu Kultalahti for giving me the opportunity to do the research I did for Finnwatch. It was a great opportunity and I always accept the result as if I chose it myself. Thai Serc always stood behind me too Sawit Kaewvarn Pongthiti Stone
Amongst those providing strongest support in these cases has been Zoe and Joanna at Walkfree, Abby Mills McGill at ILRF, Owen Tudor at Trade Unions Congress (UK), Bobbie and team at BHRRC, Phil Robertson at HRW, Robert Pajkovski and the SC team, Kalle Bergbom at Swedwatch, Glennis Wilmott and other active MEPs in the European Parliament, some active UK Parliamentarians worked on by Mark Farmaner at Burma Campaign and TUC, Catherine Morris at LRWC Tu Lu San Thein and many more that cannot be mentioned or even remembered easily.
And of course my lawyers require a special thankyou Nakhon Chomphuchat Sunya Iedjongdee Natalie Bergman Kob Paranda despite how much I like to disagree and argue with them all Supinya Klangnarong as well as a special thanks to fellow human rights defenders Oi Chutima Alan Morison Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and some important journalists who always follow whats happening for that gives encouragement too Robert Holmes Jonathan Head Jerome Taylor Wayne Hay Kingsley Abbott Alisa Tang Many witnesses will also appear in my defense in the coming weeks, and more news on that later.
CONDUCTING RESEARCH ON MIGRANT WORKER CONDITIONS IN THAILAND AND ANYWHERE ACROSS THE WOULD IS NOT AND SHOULD NOT BE A CRIME. I am confident to receive justice in the consideration of tomorrow’s case against me, and all the other cases still pending also. This case is not about me as an individual. This case is about defending basic human rights principles and fighting against or standing up to the threat that human rights defenders face every day across the world, in many ways much more serious than any threat I have ever faced in Thailand or Myanmar, in their commitment and belief in the power and benefit of standing up against injustice in our societies and our world.