YANGON — British labour activist Mr Andy Hall has been found guilty of criminal defamation by a Thai court and given a suspended prison term, in a case rights groups say was designed to stifle those helping exploited migrant workers in Thailand.
Bangkok South Criminal Court this morning handed Hall a four-year prison term, suspended for two years, and a fine of 150,000 baht (US$4,300), civil society organisation Finnwatch said in a statement.
He has been placed in custody but will be released when he pays the fine, Finnwatch said. It added that Hall was in “relatively good spirits” and plans to appeal the ruling and apply for bail.
The case was brought against Hall by Natural Fruit Company Ltd and relate to the publication of a report, Cheap Has a High Price, by Finnwatch in 2013. Hall faces another criminal charge under the Computer Crimes Act, as well as two civil cases, as a result of the report.
The report outlined allegations of serious human rights violations at Natural Fruit’s pineapple processing plant in Prachuap Khiri Khan province in Thailand. Most of the workers at the factory are migrants from Myanmar.
Ms Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch, said Hall was being made a scapegoat in order to other voices that speak out in support of migrant worker rights. She said Thailand’s use of criminal defamation was “in clear breach” of its international human rights obligations.
“This is a sad day for freedom of expression in Thailand. We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling,” Vartiala 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.”
Human Rights Watch said prior to the ruling that the case against Hall has had “chilling effect” on other activists pressing for the protection of workers’ rights in Thailand.
“Migrant workers in Thailand face huge challenges in asserting their rights in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “Prosecuting Andy Hall for his association with independent efforts to document rights abuses raises serious questions about Thailand’s readiness to protect workers’ rights.”
Natural Fruit filed the cases in February 2013 and Hall was formally charged with criminal defamation in January of this year.
Natural Fruit has also filed two civil claims for damages against Andy Hall totalling 400 million baht (about US$11.5 million). These cases are on hold until the criminal cases have been concluded.
In October 2014, the 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 the Thai Criminal Procedure Law. Appeals in this case, submitted by both Natural Fruit and Thailand’s Attorney General, are being considered by Thailand’s Supreme Court after the Appeals Court threw out an initial appeal in September 2015.