A court in Thailand has sentenced a reporter to two years in prison for criminal libel for a comment she tweeted about labour disagreement at a poultry farm.
The case against Suchanee Cloitre, then working for Voice TV, is one of 20 lawsuits launched by Thammakaset Co against 25 workers, activists and journalists.
Critics such as Human Rights Watch say these types of libel cases are meant to deter lawsuits filed in the public interest, such as by labour activists and environmentalists. They decry criminal libel laws as especially open to abuse.
So-called “strategic litigation against public participation” lawsuits are meant to intimidate, since they often pit corporations with strong financial and legal resources against individuals and groups operating on shoestring budgets.
The Lop Buri provincial court in central Thailand freed Suchanee on 75,000-baht bail after sentencing her. She will appeal the verdict, said her lawyer, Waraporn Uthairangsee.
“I am so shocked and never thought that it would be such a very harsh ruling.” Suchanee, who now works for a Thai television station, told The New York Times. “Above all I was doing my duty as a journalist in reporting what was happened. I didn’t intend to harm anyone.”
“I think the verdict will have an effect on Thai media. They have to be much more careful when reporting any story,” she said.
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
The case began in 2016, when workers at the Thammakaset farm filed a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. It charged that they had been forced to work up to 20 hours per day without a day off. Also for 40 or more days in a row. It also charged that they had been paid less than the minimum wage. They were also not provided with overtime compensation.Their freedom of movement was also restricted and their identity documents confiscated.
Thammakaset sued the workers for defamation, alleging that their complaint had damaged the interests of the company, which was a supplier of poultry to Thai agribusiness giant Betagro.
It later sued two workers and a labor activist for theft for taking their time cards to document their allegations of labor law violations. Thammakaset lost both cases.
In August 2016, the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare ordered Thammakaset to pay the workers. A total of 1.7 million baht was ordered for compensation and damages. Consequently the money was handed over only this year.
Reports of the labour protection department’s ruling and its aftermath triggered the flurry of lawsuits by Thammakaset.
Thammakaset Launches new lawsuit
The latest lawsuit was launched by Thammakaset in October, when it charged Angkhana Neelapaijit, a Magsaysay Award winner and former human rights commissioner in Thailand, with criminal defamation.
Thammakaset claimed that she defamed the company with two posts on Twitter. Consequently offering support for other human rights defenders facing lawsuits by the company.
If found guilty, Mrs Angkhana could face up to three years in prison in Thailand. A Bangkok court has scheduled a mediation session for the case in February.
Source: The Associated Press, New York Times