Bri­tish ac­tivist found guilty in Thai defama­tion trial

The Sun (Malaysia) - - NEWS WITHOUT BORDERS -

BANGKOK: A Bri­tish ac­tivist was found guilty of crim­i­nal defama­tion and breach­ing Thai­land’s strict com­puter laws and given a three-year sus­pended jail sen­tence, his lawyer said yes­ter­day, over a re­port on labour abuses in the king­dom’s lu­cra­tive fruit sec­tor.

Andy Hall, who lives in Thai­land, has faced a cas­cade of le­gal ac­tions for co-au­thor­ing a 2013 re­port on a Natural Fruit fac­tory in the south, al­leg­ing poor work­ing con­di­tions, low wages and child labour. Natural Fruit, a ma­jor sup­plier to the Euro­pean drink mar­ket, brought the ac­tion against Hall.

The ac­tivist “was found guilty of defama­tion and un­der the com­puter crime act ... the court sen­tenced him to four years in jail, re­duced to three,” his lawyer Nakhon Chom­phuchat said af­ter the ver­dict, adding that the sen­tence was sus­pended.

Rights groups say crim­i­nal defama­tion and com­puter mis­use laws are rou­tinely used to sti­fle in­ves­tiga­tive work.

The contentious re­port Cheap Has a High Price was pub­lished by the Fin­nish civil rights group Fin­nwatch.

It heaped pres­sure on Thai­land’s food in­dus­try, which has faced years of al­le­ga­tions of mis­treat­ment of its mainly mi­grant labour force.

Natural Fruit has de­nied the re­port’s claims and has also launched a civil case seek­ing US$10 mil­lion (RM41 mil­lion) in dam­ages.

Hall, who said he will ap­peal the ver­dict, stands by his re­search and has ac­cused the com­pany of try­ing to de­tract from the re­port’s damn­ing find­ings through le­gal ac­tion.

Speak­ing af­ter the trial yes­ter­day, Hall said the ver­dict “shows peo­ple are not free or at lib­erty to do this kind of re­search”.

“There’s a huge prob­lem with hu­man trafficking in Thai­land. There’s a huge prob­lem with labour exploitation,” added the ac­tivist, who in re­cent years has also drawn at­ten­tion to abuses in Thai­land’s shady fishing and poul­try sec­tors. – AFP

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