Rights Activist Andy Hall Indicted for Defamation in Bangkok

By Sean Gleeson 24 August 2015

RANGOON — Migrant rights activist Andy Hall has been formally indicted on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes in Thailand, the latest chapter in a long-running legal saga that the 35-year-old British national has characterized as “judicial harassment”.

Bangkok South Criminal Court ruled on Monday that the charges could proceed against Hall, who faces a maximum seven-year sentence if convicted.

“I’m disappointed but I will respect the court’s decision,” Hall told The Irrawaddy. “I’m going to fight the case, and the case will expose many wrongdoings by many different people…I’m confident that in the end I’ll be served justice and be acquitted of all charges.”

Natural Fruit, a pineapple processing company based in the Bangkok municipality of Thonburi and exporting to European markets, filed civil and criminal defamation complaints against Hall in February 2013. Hall had been contracted to conduct research for a report by European corporate watchdog Finnwatch that documented low wages, the employment of underage workers and other labor abuses against the company’s largely Burmese migrant workforce.

Finnwatch executive director Sonja Vartiala, said in a press statement on Monday that the prospects of a fair trial for Hall were “looking grim”, and noted that no-one had yet been held accountable for the unlawful labor practices at the Natural Fruit plant.

“The Bangkok South Criminal Court had an opportunity to put an end to a saga of intimidation, already lasting 30-months, aimed at nothing but gagging a human rights defender,” she said. “Regrettably the court chose instead to press on with a trial of these unfounded charges.”

Hall is facing three other charges relating to the Natural Fruit report, including a criminal defamation charge for a June 2013 interview with Al Jazeera in Rangoon, and corresponding civil defamation cases seeking a total of US$14 million in damages.

The Prakanong Provincial Court dismissed the criminal defamation charge arising from the Al Jazeera interview in October 2014. An appeal against the ruling, lodged by the Thai Attorney General and Natural Fruit, is expected by the beginning of 2016.

Hall confirmed on Monday that he would remain in Thailand to contest the allegations.

“I fight on against judicial harassment to give voice to systematic migrant rights violations [and the] dire situation of rights activists in Thailand,” he wrote on Twitter after the indictment was handed down.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, told The Irrawaddy that companies sourcing products from Thailand should ask the nation’s leaders why a human rights activist was being prosecuted for drawing attention to labor abuses.

“By prosecuting Andy Hall for his reporting on the exploitation of migrant workers, the Thai government has thrown its support behind a rights abusing company and revealed how little Bangkok cares about ending human trafficking or addressing cruel treatments meted out against migrants from Burma,” said Robertson.

“What’s really in the dock today is Thailand’s faltering commitment to tackle human rights violations in the supply chains of companies that export their products to Europe and North America.”

On Wednesday, representatives of 44 international labor and human rights organizations called on Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to ensure Hall’s release from all charges and an end to the use of defamation and computer crimes prosecutions to punish rights activists.

For the last year, Hall has worked to organize and raise funds for the defense of Burmese migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, the pair accused of murdering two British tourists on the southern island of Koh Tao in September 2014.

It is expected that Hall will either be taken into pre-trial detention or given the opportunity to post bail when he next appears before the Bangkok South Criminal Court on Oct. 19.