Thai court indicts previously acquitted British rights activist
A Thai court Monday indicted a British labor rights activist in a case linked to a report he co-authored alleging severe labor abuses in Thailand’s food industry, a key supplier to Western supermarkets.
Andy Hall, 34, had previously been acquitted by a court last year on a defamation charge pursued by Thailand’s Attorney General.
But Natural Fruit, the company at the heart of the dispute, has filed a string of its own criminal and civil cases against Hall, the most serious of which was accepted Monday.
“We have learned that the Southern Criminal Court has agreed to hear the case against Andy Hall for defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act,” Hall’s defense lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat told AFP.
Hall has been ordered to appear in court on Oct. 19 for a plea hearing, Nakhon added, with the court expected to decide today whether he gets bail.
The labor activist, who is based in Thailand, faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.
Both Thailand’s criminal defamation and computer misuse laws have been criticized by rights groups for their broad wording and the ease with which they can be used to stifle investigative work.
Hall co-authored a 2013 report centered on working conditions at a Natural Fruit factory in southern Thailand leveling accusations of forced and child labor, unlawfully low wages and long hours.
Titled “Cheap Has a High Price” and published by the Finnish civil rights group Finnwatch, the report redoubled scrutiny of Thailand’s food industry which has faced years of allegations of mistreatment of its mainly migrant labor force.
Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drink market, has denied the allegations in Hall’s report and launched a slew of court cases against the Briton, including a civil case seeking US$10 million in damages.
The company was unavailable for comment Monday.
Thailand’s Attorney General is also appealing last year’s acquittal.
Hall stands by his research and has accused the company of trying to detract from the report’s damning findings through legal action.
“I am confident of being cleared of all these ridiculous charges,” Hall told AFP after the indictment, adding “this is plain and simple judicial harassment.”