28th August 2017
Judicial harassment waged against migrant workers’ rights defender Andy Hall gathers new momentum in Thailand
A new trial of British migrant workers’ rights defender Andy Hall in a civil defamation prosecution will commence on Tuesday 29th August at the Prakanong Court in Bangkok, Thailand. The case was initiated in 2013 by a Thai pineapple exporter Natural Fruit Company Ltd. which is seeking 100 million baht (EUR 2.5m) from Hall in damages following an interview Hall gave to Aljazeera English news channel in Myanmar in 2013.
“As a consequence of having helped to expose systematic human rights violations against migrant workers in Thailand, Hall has been battling for his freedom and dignity within Thailand’s justice system and courts since 2013. A new civil trial concerning the same Aljazeera interview for which a criminal prosecution has already been dismissed as unlawful is a sign that this judicial harassment against a human rights defender is being allowed to continue endlessly,” said Sonja Vartiala, Executive Director of Finnwatch.
Between 2014–2016, the Prakanong Court and then Thailand’s Appeals Court and Supreme Court dismissed the criminal defamation case related to Hall’s 2013 Aljazeera interview due to a flawed interrogation process and given that the alleged defamatory comments were made overseas in Myanmar where Thai courts do not have jurisdiction. In May 2017, Hall launched 14 counter criminal prosecutions against state prosecutors, police and Natural Fruit executives and lawyers related to this unlawful criminal defamation prosecution.
In November 2016, the Prakanong Court dismissed also the civil case related to the same Aljazeera interview on the basis of jurisdiction of the court. Natural Fruit then appealed the dismissal of the civil case to Appeals Court which on 22 August ruled that Prakanong Court had jurisdiction over the case and ordered the Court to begin to hear the case in full from 29th August.
As the Thai civil and criminal court systems are independent of each other, the Prakanong Court will have to re-consider the facts of the case and allegedly defamatory interview from the beginning, separately from the already concluded criminal procedure, albeit both parties in the case can submit as evidence previous testimony to support witnesses that must be brought to trial.
This is the first civil case to reach the trial stage of altogether four interrelated, civil and criminal defamation cases filed by the pineapple company against Hall since the publication in 2013 of a Finnwatch report that alleged serious human rights violations at a Natural Fruit factory in Southern Thailand. Hall coordinated field research for the Finnwatch report.
“Thailand’s criminal defamation laws and the way they are applied send a clear message to human rights defenders and victims of corporate abuse – be silent or you will be buried in never-ending court proceedings forever,” Vartiala said.
In an unrelated case, another company Thammakaset Co. Ltd. which operates a chain of chicken farms has also filed a criminal defamation and computer crimes case against Hall. The Bangkok South Criminal Court will determine whether Thammakaset’s complaint against Hall has sufficient merit to proceed to trial in December. On 23rd August, the Don Muang Magistrates Court already accepted a criminal defamation case filed by Thammakaset against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar for a full trial commencing on 4th October.
“Judicial harassment against civil society and victims of labour rights violations in Thailand should set the alarm bells ringing in companies trading with Thailand. In this situation, they must think hard how to they can effectively and in a credible manner manage the responsibility of their supply chains,” said Vartiala.
“The fact that such harassment can continue for many years also speaks to the failure of the Thai government to live up to its international obligations to protect the rights of human rights defenders,” she added.
In September 2016, Hall was sentenced to four years in prison and a 200,000 baht (EUR 5 000) fine, reduced to a three-year prison sentence suspended for two years and a 150,000 baht (EUR 4 000) fine, in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, also bought against him by Natural Fruit. Hall’s guilty verdict met with widespread international criticism including statements of concern from the UN, ILO and EU. In November 2016, Hall left Thailand. He currently resides in Europe.
For additional information please see Q&A: Criminal and Civil Prosecutions – Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall, last updated on 28th August 2017, available at https://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/NaturalFruitvsAndyHallQA_August2017_Final.pdf
For additional information on cases filed by Thammakaset, see for example Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Betagro & Thammakaset lawsuit (re labour exploitation in Thailand), available at https://business-humanrights.org/en/betagro-thammakaset-lawsuit-re-labour-exploitation-in-thailand
Executive Director, Finnwatch
+358 (0)44 5687465
sonja.vartiala (a) finnwatch.org
Migrant Worker Rights Specialist