Rights Groups Call on Thailand to Ease Prosecution of Activists

By The Irrawaddy 13 December 2016

More than 100 rights groups, worker’s organizations and members of the European Parliament have sent an open letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister calling on the country to ease the prosecution of human rights defenders.

The call was made to mark International Human Rights Day over the weekend and it highlighted the case against British migrant rights activist Andy Hall who was convicted of criminal defamation and computer crimes in Thailand on Sept. 20.

In the letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the coalition of 110 international organizations said Andy Hall’s conviction set “a dangerous precedent that would make it more difficult for migrant workers to ensure their rights are respected.”

There are more than 3 million migrant workers who work and live in Thailand and a majority of them are from Burma.

The coalition also said that Thailand’s use of criminal defamation laws and the Computer Crimes Act to prosecute human rights defenders violates its international obligations and increases risk for businesses that source goods from Thailand.

Andy Hall was convicted by the Bangkok South Criminal Court for criminal defamation and computer crimes based on his research work for Finnwatch, a Finnish civil society organization, which outlined allegations of serious human rights abuses at Natural Fruit Company Ltd, a pineapple processing facility. The court handed Hall a three-year suspended sentence along with a 150,000 baht (about US$4,000) fine.

Abby McGill, campaign director with the International Labor Rights Forum, said in the letter that the use of criminal defamation and the computer crimes act was an alarming way to bring cases against migrant workers and activists who were outspoken regarding illegal working conditions.

“These laws have a dangerous chilling effect and punish victims for seeking remedy, rather than those who commit crimes against them,” said Abby McGill in the statement.

Last month, a chicken farm that supplies to Thai poultry export giant Betagro also initiated charges of criminal defamation against 14 Burmese migrant workers who alleged they worked in exploitative conditions on a Betagro chicken farm, according to the Thailand-based Migrant Workers Rights Network, a migrant worker rights organization in which Andy Hall serves as international affairs advisor.