The Phrakhanong Court in Bangkok on October 29 dismissed a defamation case brought against a British human rights activist, by a Thai fruit company, citing failure by Thai law enforcement officials to follow proper investigatory procedure.
The case, one of four criminal and civil lawsuits filed against Andy Hall by Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. for his contribution to a report published by FinnWatch in 2013 on alleged lax labour standards and violation of human rights of migrant workers.
The Thai company has denied the accusations.
“I’m delighted at today’s important verdict, it’s a sweet victory for migrant workers, labour rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law in Thailand,” Hall told reporters and supporters outside the courthouse after the verdict.
The verdict was specific to the case against Hall by Natural Fruit for an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera television, while he was in Myanmar, was based on the Finnish watchdog’s report “Cheap Has a High Price”.
Under Section 120 of the Criminal Procedure Code, interrogation of a suspect for offences committed outside Thailand calls for the presence of officials from the Attorney-General’s Office in addition to police investigators. The investigation was deemed unlawful by the court as interrogation of Hall had been conducted by only one police officer.
“We are relieved and glad that justice has prevailed in this case,” said Sonja Vartiala, the Executive Director of Finnwatch.
During Andy Hall’s trial, the court heard, for instance, a former worker of Natural Fruit who testified that the factory was hiring under aged children and paid unlawfully low salaries to its workers.
“The court hearings were yet another confirmation that, as Finnwatch’s report revealed, there are serious problems in working conditions at Natural Fruit,” Vartiala. “The question that now must be asked is why Thailand’s authorities have not taken action against the company,” said Vartiala.
Pending separate trials are a US$10-million civil defamation case, which begins on October 30 at Nakhon Pathom Court; another case on computer crimes act and criminal defamation charges, will proceed on November 17 at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. The dates for a US$4 million civil case have yet to be confirmed, according to FinnWatch.
If Hall is found guilty of the additional criminal and civil cases, he could face up to seven years in prison and be forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation.