Burmese Migrant Rights Advocate to Face Thai Court

By Lawi Weng 17 June 2014

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.