BANGKOK – Labor rights activist Andy Hall arrived Thursday morning at the Bangkok South Criminal Court to start his latest trial on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes.
Hall was greeted outside the courthouse by about 10 supporters, half of whom were Thais and half Myanmar workers, who gave him flowers before going into the building with him, an epa journalist reports.
Hall is being sued by the Natural Fruit Company over his allegations that the company exploited its mostly foreign workers, he faces seven years in prison if convicted of charges
The charges against Hall, include allegations that he violated Thailandâ€™s Computer Crimes Act in connection with the case.
Hall interviewed the workers and did research on behalf of Finnwatch, an NGO based in Finland that advocates global corporate responsibility, and which published a report in 2013 based on his work.
Kachin Komneyawanich, Natural Fruitâ€™s vice president, and only witness said on the witness stand, Mr. Hall disseminated false information on the Finnwatch website so that customers wouldn’t order our products.
Around mid-afternoon, Hall tweeted that the 45 minute proceedings included witness testimony from one Natural Fruit witness, while another witness was sick, before the case was adjourned until May 26.
Outside the courthouse, Hall told reporters that he did not commit libel or break the computer law, saying he simply was relaying to Finnwatch information and statements he had gathered from the workers for its report.
Among their allegations, the Natural Fruit plant workers said they were deprived of reasonable wages, sick and holiday leave, and that their employer had confiscated their passports and was employing child-workers.
â€œI have just said what the workers told me,â€ Hall said Thursday. â€œI researched the conditions in that factory; Finnwatch then prepared the report and published the report.
The case is the most serious of four separate lawsuits filed against the activist by Natural Fruit three years ago, but a Thai appeals court dismissed one of the cases in September 2015, according to Finnwatch.
The second of three days of prosecutorial testimony will follow on May 26, and witnesses for the defense are to testify over eight days spread between June and July, the Finnish NGO and other sources said.
Migrant workers who used to work at the pineapple canning plant are expected to testify for the defense, along with union figures, lawyers and leaders of Thai export companies who were featured in Finnwatchâ€™s report, which was titled â€œCheap Has a High Price.â€
The NGOâ€™s executive director, Sonja Vartiala, plans to travel to Bangkok to testify on Hallâ€™s behalf.
â€œAndy Hallâ€™s work in defense of migrant worker rights in Thailand is internationally recognized. This campaign of judicial harassment against him has been condemned by civil society and responsible businesses all around the world. Finnwatch continue to stand by Andy Hall,â€ Vartiala said in a statement issued last week.
Hall first faced legal action from the fruit company in 2013, when it filed computer crimes and civil and criminal defamation charges against him, following the publication of a Finnwatch report on Thai food production conditions. The court dismissed those charges in 2014 and 2015.