Burmese Migrant Rights Advocate to Face Thai Court

British labor right activist Andy Hall with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: andyjhall.files.wordpress.com)

RANGOON — A court in Bangkok is due to rule on Wednesday in a case pitting a Thai fruit company against Andy Hall, a labor rights activist who has helped expose abuses suffered by the sizeable population of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Natural Fruit, a Thai firm that processes and exports tinned pineapple and juice concentrate, brought charges against the British national Hall in February 2013, accusing the activist of defamation after he coauthored a report alleging labor rights abuses at a company factory south of Bangkok.

The report was published by Finnwatch, a global corporate responsibility watchdog, in January 2013.

The company claims the report was false and has filed four civil and criminal charges against Hall, seeking 300 million baht (US$10 million) in damages. The British activist could face up to seven years in prison if found guilty of the criminal charges.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday by phone from Bangkok, Hall said he would cooperate with the judicial process, starting with Thai police escorting him to the Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday morning.

“And then, I may have to go to the court. The court can order to arrest me and then put me into a cell. … What will happen tomorrow is still unclear,” he said.

“As to whether I get a fair trial in this case, I am very concerned.”

Wednesday will mark the first time the activist—who has worked in Thailand for years to expose labor abuses among migrants, including Burmese workers—has gone before a court since Natural Fruit filed charges against him last year.

Hall moved to work in Rangoon in the aftermath of the charges brought by Natural Fruit, but he returned to Thailand in September in an attempt to resolve the legal row. He said Thai police at the time tried to get him to sign a confession to the charges and, following his refusal to do so, informed him that he would be summoned by a court.

“How can they do it without sending evidence to the public prosecutor? It is a very strange system. It is very concerning,” he said.

Hall urged Natural Fruit to drop the charges, which he described as “completely without reason” and a major hindrance to his ability to advocate on behalf of migrant workers’ rights.

He defended the Finnwatch report, which was published in January 2013, saying his research was based on the testimonies of migrant worker at the Natural Fruit factory.

The Helsinki-based Finnwatch has backed Hall and “sees all legal actions against Andy Hall as an attack against a human rights defender and his freedom of expression,” the group said in a press release last month.

3 Responses to Burmese Migrant Rights Advocate to Face Thai Court

  1. Prosecuting and jailing a person who defends the abused and the oppressed is a giant step backward for justice and human rights promotion not only in Thailand but also in Asia.

  2. After this issue, right activist Andy Hall should help Rohyngia/ local Muslim in Burma.

  3. To International Consumers, Boycott all Thai Canned fruit and Juice from Natural Fruit Company, Thailand.

    I want the lists of product from Natural Fruit Company Thailand. Please, someone needs to supply Natural Fruit Company’s product lists here.

    I’ll spread the Company abusing worker right of migrant workers and urge Consumers to avoid buying Canned Fruit and Juice products from Natural Fruit Thai Company on social network.
    Thai Companies are treating peoples like slave labor condition on migrant workers from neighboring countries. I have witnessing with my two eyes about monetary, physically and mentally abusing by Thai employers.

    Boycotting right is our consumers’ birthright and the Natural Fruit Company can not sue us.

    We have to start Boycott Natural Fruit, Thai Company from today.
    Put on Face Book and other social net work.
    We must test our Consumers power vs. Natural Fruit Company, Thailand on social media.

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