Thai Court Bars British Activist From Leaving Country

By Saw Yan Naing 13 January 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A Thai court has seized the passport of a prominent British activist vocal about migrant rights in Thailand and is barring him from leaving the country.

Andy Hall is currently facing a lawsuit brought against him by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. in a case of criminal defamation and computer crimes.

Charges were brought against Hall after he published a report with Helsinki-based NGO Finnwatch that allegedly exposed labor rights violations at the company’s pineapple processing plant, where workers are overwhelming from Burma, in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, southern Thailand.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Hall said: “The court has seized my UK passport and ordered an immigration block on my leaving Thailand without court permission pending a final decision of the court in my guilt or innocence.”

He was released on a 300,000 baht (US$8,280) bail on Wednesday after surrendering himself into court custody.

“I’m not a flight risk based on my past behaviour in respecting the court and justice system of Thailand and researching migrant worker conditions in Thailand is not a crime. So why restrict my freedom pending a criminal trial when any guilt on my behalf has not been proven?” Hall posted on his Facebook page.

Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch, said in a statement from the organization that Hall should not be treated as a flight risk since he has followed the procedures of the Thai justice system and has acted in accordance with national law.

“Andy Hall has shown nothing but respect towards the rule of law and the judiciary in Thailand, alongside his willingness to respond to allegations against him in a court of law. For this reason, there seems to be no reason to treat him as a flight risk, confiscate his passport and prevent him from traveling in and out of Thailand,” she said.

Hall is currently prohibited from traveling outside Thailand before a ruling has been issued in his case or unless special permission is granted. He could face a maximum of seven years in prison if he is found guilty at his trial at the Bangkok South Criminal Court on Jan. 18.

The activist also indicated on Wednesday that he intends to seek help from the British Embassy in Thailand to retrieve his seized passport.

“I shall now petition the UK embassy to Thailand requesting diplomatic officials to request the return of my confiscated passport from Bangkok South Criminal Court, given that the passport is the property of the UK government,” he wrote on Facebook.

Hall’s report for Finnwatch is said to have prompted several Finnish supermarket retailers to stop purchasing pineapple concentrate from Natural Fruit after the company refused to let independent auditors assess working conditions at the plant.