BANGKOK – Thailand’s Supreme Court Thursday dismissed a criminal defamation case against British labor activist Andy Hall that had been brought by the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd canning company and the attorney general, but his suspended prison sentence in a related case still stands.
Hall faces two more civil defamation cases brought by the canning company as part of an all-out legal assault that have raised serious concerns among human rights workers and free speech advocates.
On Thursday the Supreme Court said it was throwing out an appeal by the attorney general and Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. against a decision by lower courts exonerating Hall.
The case relates to an interview that Hall gave to Al-Jazeera television network in Myanmar in April 2013 about his earlier criminal prosecution by Natural Fruit.
The Supreme Court said the appeal has no legs to stand on because the allegedly defamatory act was committed in Myanmar where Thai courts have no jurisdiction. It also cited flawed and unlawful interrogation process during police investigation of the case to dismiss the appeal.
“I feel very happy about the verdict as this case was an injustice to me,” Hall said after the verdict.
Hall said he will now sue the attorney general, the police, the prosecutor and Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. for unlawful prosecution and perjury.
“I do so with deep regret and not at all in anger or through any desire for personal retribution. It is necessary to launch these counter prosecutions simply because I must defend myself fully against judicial harassment by Natural Fruit that shows no signs of abating,” he said.
The case has underlined complaints by critics that Thailand’s punitive criminal defamation laws can be used to silence whistleblowers and social critics. The law carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.
Hall has been active for several years in Thailand in labor rights advocacy, especially involving migrant workers, who lack protections both in practice and under the law.
His legal troubles are in connection with a 2013 report he researched for the Finnish consumer organization Finnwatch that alleged labor abuses at Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. facilities.
In September, the Bangkok South Criminal Court found Hall guilty of criminal defamation against Natural Fruit, and sentenced him to four years in prison, reduced by one year and suspended by two years. He was also fined 150,000 baht, which he paid to secure his freedom. That sentence remains, but Hall is planning to appeal against the conviction.
He also has to deal with two other pending civil defamation cases by Natural Fruit.
“The campaign of judicial harassment that has been waged against Andy Hall for almost four years now has already sadly been successful.” said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch. “As many have feared, this campaign has also had a negative impact far beyond the case of Andy himself. 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,” she said.