The Irrawaddy

Thai Court Orders Arrest of UK Labor Rights Activist

British rights activist Andy Hall arrives at the Bangkok South Criminal Court to surrender himself into custody while facing criminal defamation and computer crimes charges on Jan. 13, 2016. / Reuters

YANGON — British labor rights activist Andy Hall said a Thai court ordered his arrest on Tuesday so that he is present when the Appeals Court announces its verdict on his criminal conviction for defamation and computer crimes next month.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court convicted Hall in September 2016 over a report he worked on accusing Thailand’s Natural Fruit Company of human rights abuses at a factory using migrant workers from Myanmar. It sentenced him to four years in prison, though it reduced the sentence by one year and suspended two.

Hall, whose research has covered the labor conditions of migrant workers in Thailand from Myanmar and other neighboring countries, left Thailand soon after he was convicted.

In a statement to Finnish labor rights group Finnwatch, which published the 2013 report used to sue him, Hall said the warrant was more of the same court harassment he has faced from the start.

“I have faced intolerable amounts of judicial harassment, which essentially undermined my ability to do human rights work effectively inside Thailand. This is why I left the country in November 2016. I am disappointed and concerned this warrant has now being [sic] issued for my arrest and this unacceptable judicial harassment against me continues unabated,” he told Finnwatch.

The labor rights group said the Appeals Court was set to announce its verdict today but in Hall’s absence rescheduled the hearing for May 31. It said Hall’s legal team was there.

Contacted by email, Hall told The Irrawaddy that he had no intention of returning to Thailand on his own accord “whilst judicial harassment against me continued” and that he was consulting legal experts on the possibility of Thai authorities seeking an international arrest warrant.

Hall said he had not been summoned to today’s court hearing through any official or legal channels and so questioned the legal grounds on which the warrant itself was ordered.

“I have asked the UK government and European Union to make representations on my behalf concerning this issue,” he said.

Even so, Hall, currently in Nepal, said he would seek legal advice before traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia.

In its statement, Finnwatch corroborated the arrest order and said it remained hopeful that the Thai courts would clear Hall of any wrongdoing.

”We remain hopeful the Appeals Court will acquit Andy of all these charges. The charges against him stem from his legitimate work as a human rights defender and migrant worker rights activist. He is not a criminal,” said Sonja Vartiala, the group’s executive director.

The September 2016 conviction relates to one of four civil and criminal cases Natural Fruit has filed against Hall over the 2013 report and a subsequent interview he gave Al Jazeera.

Last month, a Thai court ordered Hall to pay 10 million baht ($318,000) in damages to Natural Fruit in a civil defamation case relating to the interview, which he gave in Yangon, and to compensate the company for legal expenses. Hall has instructed his legal team to appeal.