“Thailand’s reputation stained”, Finnwatch’s researcher leaves

Following the latest court decision on 3 November in the criminal defamation case against Finnwatch’s researcher Andy Hall, he has decided to leave the country until the situation could change and he could safely return to continue his work in Thailand.

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He was quoted by Bangkok Post as saying he feared for his safety amidst legal problems and growing harassment from companies. Mr Hall is being sued by several companies for defamation, but after the top court dismissal criminal defamation case he was free to leave the country.

“I want to ensure time for existing tense situations of conflict to reduce as well as provide time and space for the many parties to these existing disputes to fully understand the importance of migrant worker rights and the necessity for human rights defenders like myself to have their work increasingly promoted and protected. Only if such a positive situation is developed can people like myself work genuinely and most productively, free from threats and intimidation and without endless prosecutions that prevent our work from proceeding effectively,” states Mr Hall.

On 20 September 2016 the 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 Finnish civil society organisation Finnwatch, where 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 by one year and suspended by two years and ordered to pay a fine of 200, 000 baht reduced to 150,000 baht.

Once the fine was paid to the Court by Thai Union Group, the Thai Tuna Industry Association and Finnwatch, Andy Hall was released from temporary detention, his passport returned and restrictions on his freedom of movement removed. The surprise guilty verdict drewstern criticism from around the world including from the UN, the ILO, the European Parliament and European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

On 3 November Thailand’s Supreme Court came with its decision, rejecting the Attorney General and Natural Fruit Co Ltd.’s appeal in a criminal defamation case against Finnwatch researcher Andy Hall. The charges in this case related to an interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera in Myanmar in April 2013 concerning his earlier criminal prosecution by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. This particular case had already been dismissed twice by courts of both first and second instance (Prakanong/Appeals Court) on the grounds of flawed unlawful interrogation processes during police investigation of the case and given the allegedly defamatory act was committed in Myanmar.

A Finnwatch press release quotes a statement from Mr Hall following the ruling: “Following dismissal of the case, I have no choice but to now launch counter litigation against Natural Fruit, the Prosecutor, Police and the Attorney General for unlawful prosecution and for perjury. I do so with deep regret and not at all in anger or through any desire for personal retribution. It is necessary to launch these counter prosecutions simply because I must defend myself fully against judicial harassment by Natural Fruit that shows no signs of abating.”

“The Supreme Court’s ruling is of course a huge relief but it does not vindicate Hall’s earlier conviction and suspended prison sentence in a case also brought by Natural Fruit less than two months ago. However, the campaign of judicial harassment that has been waged against Andy Hall for almost four years now has already sadly been successful. As many have feared, this campaign has also had a negative impact far beyond the case of Andy himself. We have heard from a number of migrant workers and activists how they are now deeply afraid to speak out on abuse workers face from Thai employers after Andy Hall’s recent conviction,” said Sonja Vartiala, Executive Director of Finnwatch.

‘A real stain has been placed on Thailand’s reputation, in particular as an acceptable country to do business in. Companies which source from Thailand need to think really hard whether they can be confident that they can adequately monitor their supply chains when the voices of workers and those who defend them are being chillingly silenced,’ she added.

Less than two months ago on September 20th 2016, the Bangkok South Criminal Court found Andy Hall guilty in the other criminal case on charges of criminal defamation by publication and Computer Crimes brought by Natural Fruit against him. He was subsequently sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, reduced by one year and suspended by two years and ordered to pay a fine of 200, 000 baht reduced to 150,000 baht.

Andy Hall and his legal team are currently preparing to appeal the Bangkok South Criminal Court conviction on grounds of both fact and law but have yet to receive a written copy of the verdict to be used as the basis of the appeal. The Supreme Court ruling in this Aljazeera interview case on 3rd November will have no impact on the suspended prison sentence Hall was given on 20th September.

Two civil defamation claims for damages of 400 million baht brought by Natural Fruit Company Ltd against Andy Hall are still pending resolution of the two criminal cases. Natural Fruit filed all four cases against Hall following publication of the Finnwatch report Cheap Has a High Price in January 2013. Hall coordinated field research and conducted migrant worker interviews for the report which outlined migrant worker interviewee allegations of serious labour rights violations at the company’s pineapple processing plant.

“As an individual and as an international affairs advisor to the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) and the State Enterprise Worker Relations Confederation (SERC), I have been dedicated to working as a human rights defender and activist for over 11 years. My goal has always been to improve living and working conditions of millions of exploited migrant workers in Thailand and ensure these workers access fully labour rights and other rights they are entitled under Thai law. However, in the end, the situation has not worked out as I planned or hoped. This work has entailed many personal challenges. I have in particular encountered insurmountable challenges with some companies and establishments,” Andy Hall writes on his blog website.

“For instance, on 20th September 2016 the Bangkok South Criminal Court issued its judgment convicting me for criminal defamation and computer crimes. This conviction resulted from a case prosecuted against me in relation to the publication of a report by Finnwatch on the situation of migrant worker rights violations in Thailand’s pineapple industry. I was a researcher providing raw data for this report and I did not analyse this data, write the report or publish it. However I was sentenced as defendant in this case to 4 years imprisonment and a 200, 000 baht fine. As I was seen to have given beneficial evidence at my trial in a case which also lasted for almost 4 years, I was given a 25% reduction in sentence to 3 years imprisonment and a 150, 000 baht fine. The court suspended my imprisonment sentence for 2 years on the basis that I was an activist working for public benefit. I shall appeal against this conviction once my lawyers receive the judgment.”

“In addition to these personal cases, recently it has been necessary for me to work with MWRN to support a case where migrant workers by necessity had to prosecute a chicken farm owner in Lopburi Province providing poultry to Betagro for export overseas. This case is now resulting in additional criminal prosecutions and threats of even more extensive litigation in Thailand’s Courts of Justice. When taken together, this ongoing, costly and extensive litigation on migrant labour issues creates challenges that critically prevent in many ways enhancement of migrant worker rights in Thailand.”

See also: Migrant rights defender Andy Hall sentenced to prison

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