British rights activist charged with defamation in Thailand
Andy Hall could face seven years in jail over report alleging human rights and labour abuses at Thai fruit producer
The Bangkok south criminal court decided on Monday to indict the migrants’ rights researcher in a case that has been condemned as an attempt to gag the messenger rather than deal with labour rights in the south-east Asian nation.
Natural Fruit has filed four cases against Hall following the publication of the report he researched for the Finnish NGO Finnwatch, released in January 2013 and titled Cheap Has a High Price.
The report was based on information gathered through interviews with the workers of a Natural Fruit pineapple processing factory and exposed violence against employees, forced overtime, the use of underage labour and the confiscation of passports of Burmese migrant workers.
Natural Fruit denies all allegations.
Hall told the Guardian that while he respects the court’s decision, he is disappointed and will plead not guilty. “It’s not my report. I didn’t disseminate it,” he said on the phone from the court.
In Thailand, defamation can be a criminal offence. Hall was also indicted on Monday under the Computer Crimes Act, which bans online material considered a threat to national security. Separately, he is facing two civil defamation cases where Natural Fruit is asking for damages of 400,000,000 baht, around £7m.
“The criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act case, to which today’s decision to indict relates to, is the most severe of all the cases filed against Andy Hall, and carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment,” Sonja Vartiala,
executive director of Finnwatch, said after the indictment.
“At this point, the prospects for Andy Hall to receive a fair trial are looking grim,” she said.
Hall, 35, is from Spalding, Lincolnshire, but has lived in Thailand for a decade and speaks the language fluently. With a PhD from Cardiff University, Hall has worked in Burma and Thailand on migration policy issues. He is also supporting the defence of two Burmese migrant workers accused of murdering two Britons on the Thai island of Koh Tao last year, saying he is working to ensure a fair trial.
On Monday, the court ordered Hall to appear on 19 October to make a plea. He will then face detention, official charging and can request bail.
“I will comply with all court orders,” Hall said. “I will plead not guilty.”