CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thailand’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a criminal defamation case brought by the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. and Thailand’s attorney general against migrant rights defender Andy Hall, a British national resident in Thailand.
The charge was one of a roster of criminal and civil claims brought against him by Natural Fruit for co-authoring a report with Finnish NGO Finnwatch titled “Cheap Has a High Price,” released in Jan. 2013, which revealed that Burmese migrants workers were suffering conditions of modern slavery at Natural Fruit’s pineapple processing plant in Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
The case dismissed on Thursday related to an interview Andy Hall gave to the Aljazeera news agency in Burma in April 2013 about the earlier criminal case brought against him by Natural Fruit. The case had already been dismissed twice on account of unlawful police interrogation, because the offending act was committed outside Thailand.
The Supreme Court ruling does not overturn the three-year suspended prison sentence handed down to Andy Hall by the Bangkok South Criminal Court in September for defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act, for which he was detained briefly prior to paying a 150,000 baht (US$4,300) fine. The conviction is still being appealed.
Following Thursday’s verdict, Andy Hall told The Irrawaddy that he and his legal team would launch counter litigation against Natural Fruit, the attorney general, the Phra Khanong district prosecutor, police and prosecution witnesses for perjury and unlawful prosecution.
“I do so with deep regret and not at all in anger or through any desire for personal retribution,” he said, explaining the need to “defend myself fully against judicial harassment by Natural Fruit that shows no signs of abating.”
Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch, which has been fighting his prosecutions, said she welcomed the Supreme Court ruling but lamented that “the campaign of judicial harassment that has been waged against Andy Hall for almost four years now has already sadly been successful.”
She explained, “We have heard from a number of migrant workers and activists how they are now deeply afraid to speak out on abuse workers face from Thai employers after Andy Hall’s [September] conviction.”
There are an estimated 3 million Burmese migrants working in Thailand, many of them illegally. They are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, imprisonment and deportation. Recent months have seen a government crackdown under the nationalist pretext that migrants are “stealing jobs from Thais” at a time of economic uncertainty.
Numerous community-based organizations provide assistance to Burmese migrants in Thailand, including the Migrant Workers Rights Network, based in the port town of Mahachai south of Bangkok, for whom Andy Hall has been an advisor.