On 20 September 2016, Andy Hall, British migrant rights defender, was found guilty in a criminal defamation and computer crimes act charges case brought against him by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. This happened because of a report for Finnwatch, a Finnish civil society organisation, in which Andy Hall wrote about serious human rights violations taking place at Natural Fruit’s pineapple processing plant in Thailand. Bangkok South Criminal Court has sentenced Andy Hall to four, reduced to three, years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 150,000 baht.
In addition to the two criminal cases, Natural Fruit has also filed two civil claims for damages against Andy Hall for a total of 400 million baht. These cases have been put on hold until the current criminal cases have been concluded.
“This is a sad day for freedom of expression in Thailand. We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling,” Sonja Vartiala, Executive Director of Finnwatch, says in a press release.
Natural Fruit’s pineapple juice concentrate has been used to make juice sold in Finland. Andy Hall interviewed Natural Fruit workers for the report that Finnwatch published in 2013. The report showed that violations against human and labour rights had taken place at the company’s pineapple processing plant in the Prachuap Khiri Khan province of Thailand.
The report contained analysed interviews with migrant workers from Myanmar. In this process, Andy Hall had only coordinated the field research and, with help from others, conducted the worker interviews for the report.
According to Sonja Vartiala, Finnwatch is shocked by the verdict. She explains that the report was authored and published by them and therefore, they take the full responsibility for it.
“Andy has been made a scapegoat in order to stifle other voices that speak out legitimately in support of migrant worker rights,” Sonja Vartiala adds.
Charges made against Andy Hall in September and October 2014 and in September 2015 were dismissed due to legal irregularities in the investigation progress, but Natural Fruit along with the Thai Attorney General appealed the rulings.