BANGKOK – Human Rights Watch and 30 other NGO’s said today, Thai authorities should drop charges against a prominent migrant worker rights activist, Andy Hall.
The charges violate the free expression rights of the activist, Andy Hall, and undermine his research into labor rights abuses by companies in Thailand.
Following a final preliminary hearing on July 20, 2015, a Bangkok criminal court will decide whether to indict Hall, an adviser to the Migrant Worker Rights Network, on charges of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act brought by the Natural Fruit Company and government prosecutors.
“This prosecution is all about gagging Andy Hall to deter serious reporting about alleged abuses against migrant workers, and about intimidating others who might look closely at Thailand’s corporate supply chains,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should recognize that freedom to investigate corporate abuses is critical to ensuring compliance and accountability under Thai law and international human rights standards.”
The Natural Fruit Company Limited sued Hall in February 2013 in response to an investigative report by the organization FinnWatch, which included information about alleged labor rights violations at the company’s factory in Prachaub Kirikhan province. If convicted, Hall faces up to seven years in prison. Natural Fruit also has filed two civil defamation lawsuits against Hall seeking damages of over 300 million baht (US$8.7 million).
The Natural Fruit Company Limited, whose workforce in the Prachuab Kirikhan factory consists mostly of migrant workers from Burma, asserted that Hall defamed and damaged the company by “broadcasting false statements to public media.” Government prosecutors joined the case, in which Hall was also charged under the Computer Crimes Act.
Around 30 NGOs and trade unions are demanding Thailand to end harassment of researchers and human rights defenders in the run-up to the final preliminary hearing in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, brought by Natural Fruit.
The undersigned organizations are also disappointed to learn that Thailand’s Attorney General is trying to get another, already dismissed, case against Andy Hall re-opened.
Thailand’s Attorney General’s appeal against a case that has already been thrown out of a court has no grounds whatsoever. Thailand is continuing to harass a human rights defender despite a court decision and its obligation to uphold freedom of speech, said Finnwatch Executive Director Sonja Vartiala.
Natural Fruit has brought altogether four separate cases against Andy Hall. After Monday’s final preliminary hearing on the criminal defamation and computer crimes case, the court will decide whether to indict Andy Hall or not. If the court decides to indict him, Andy Hall will be arrested and detained pending bail. He then faces a trial and if found guilty and convicted, up to seven years in prison.
The US State Department downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The TIP-report recommended that Thailand cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking, and recognise the valuable role of NGOs and workers’ organisations in uncovering the nature and scope of human trafficking in Thailand.
The actions of the Thai authorities go clearly against the recommendations in the US government report on human trafficking, said Vartiala.
The undersigned organisations also want to draw attention to the role of Natural Fruit in Thailand’s pineapple industry. The owner of Natural Fruit is the president of one of the two pineapple industry associations in Thailand, the Thailand Pineapple Industry Association TPIA. In response to earlier calls on other TPIA members to urge Natural Fruit to drop charges against Andy Hall, TPIA issued threats of further legal action instead.
The continuing leadership position of Natural Fruit in Thailand’s pineapple industry should be a cause of concern also for all customers of other TPIA member companies. By siding with Natural Fruit, the other TPIA members have shown great disregard for human rights and freedom of expression – a worrying attitude to have as an employer in a sector rife with labour rights violations, said Vartiala.
The undersigned organisations have also written an Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand on the case. The letter is available at : http://finnwatch.org/images/OpenLetter_PMThailand_AHCase_July2015.pdf
1. Fortify Rights
2. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
3. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
4. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF)
5. UNI Global Union
6. Walk Free Movement to end modern slavery
7. Word Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Asia / Pacific
8. Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
9. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Cambodia
10. Equitable Cambodia
11. State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), Thailand
12. Transient Workers Count Too, Singapore
13. Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
14. Burma Campaign UK, United Kingdom
15. Fairfood International, Netherlands
16. Finnish Food Workers’ Union (SEL), Finland
17. Finnwatch, Finland
18. Industrial Union TEAM, Finland
19. Kepa, Finland
20. Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business, Poland
21. Service Union United (PAM), Finland
22. Trade Union Pro, Finland
23. Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL), Finland
24. Trades Union Congress (TUC), United Kingdom
25. Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy), Finland
26. Fair World Project, United States
27. International Labor Rights Forum, United States