The Irrawaddy

Thai Court Sentences UK Activist for Defamation

Andy Hall, pictured after hearing the court verdict on charges of defamation and computer crimes over a report on the alleged mistreatment of migrant workers.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Migrant rights defender Andy Hall, who was accused of defamation and violating the Computer Crimes Act for contributing to a human rights report, was given a three-year suspended sentence and fined 150,000 baht (US$4,300) in Thailand on Tuesday.

Finnwatch, the Finnish watchdog group, published the report “Cheap Has a High Price” in 2013 which alleged serious human rights violations at Natural Fruit’s pineapple processing plant in Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Andy Hall, a British national, co-authored the report, which revealed Burmese migrant workers in the Thai pineapple industry suffering in conditions described as modern slavery.

Soon after the report was released, the Natural Fruit Company brought defamation charges against Hall and later added three other charges in different courts.

After the Bangkok South Criminal Court’s ruling on Tuesday—in which the court found Hall guilty on all charges—he was detained shortly but released after paying his fine.

Hall told The Irrawaddy that he did not receive the maximum sentence—of up to seven years—because “the court considered my work as a human rights activist beneficial to Thai society.”

If he does not commit any additional crimes during the first two years of his sentence, he will not serve any time in prison, he added.

Hall said will be appealing the ruling immediately but that the process will be lengthy. He has plans to go to Europe on Wednesday and said there is no restriction on his travel. His passport was seized in 2014 when charges were initially brought against him.

Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch, told The Irrawaddy, “We are shocked by the ruling and will continue supporting Andy Hall and his fight for justice. We believe he has done nothing wrong. We believe the world needs more brave people like Andy, who are standing up against human rights violations.”

There are an estimated 3 million Burmese migrant workers in neighboring Thailand and labor rights abuse cases are frequently reported. Numerous local community-based groups work to aid the migrant workers.

Andy Hall, who is also the international adviser for the Mahachai-based Burmese Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), told The Irrawaddy that “It is a very disappointing decision, for migrant workers and for justice in Thailand. This will have a very negative impact on people who fight for migrant workers.”

Concerning freedom of expression in Thailand, Ms. Vartiala also said in a statement on Tuesday, “We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling.”

“Thailand’s laws that allow for criminal punishment and even imprisonment for defamation are in clear breach of Thailand’s international human rights obligations,”she said. “Instead of allowing companies to take human rights defenders to criminal courts for alleged defamation, Thailand needs to thoroughly follow through on allegations of violations of migrant workers’ rights.”

In October 2014, Prakanong Court in Bangkok dismissed another criminal defamation case brought by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall on the grounds of a flawed prosecution that was in breach of Thailand’s Criminal Procedure Law. Appeals in this case, submitted by both Natural Fruit and Thailand’s attorney-general, are currently being considered by Thailand’s Supreme Court after the appeals court threw out an initial appeal in September 2015.

In addition to the two criminal cases, Natural Fruit has also filed two civil claims for damages against Andy Hall totaling 400 million baht ($11.5 million). These cases have been put on hold until the corresponding criminal cases are concluded.