Defamation case criticised
A Thai court has found a British labour activist guilty of defaming a fruit canning company but gave him a suspended prison sentence.
The Bangkok South Criminal Court convicted Andy Hall of criminal defamation against Natural Fruit Company Ltd in connection with a 2013 report he researched for the Finnish consumer agency Finnwatch that alleged labour abuses at the company’s facilities.
The case has been seen by critics as an effort to intimidate human rights workers and labour activists. Hall has been active for several years in Thailand in labour rights advocacy, especially involving migrant workers.
He was also found guilty of violating the Computer Crimes Act as the information was posted on the internet.
He was given a suspended sentence of three years with a probationary period of two years, and a fine of 150,000 baht (Dhs16,000). He is expected to appeal the ruling, but will be in the court’s custody until the fine is paid. Two civil suits by the company against him are pending.
The court originally sentenced Hall to four years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine, but reduced the sentence because he cooperated with the court and had no prior criminal record.
Lawyers and right groups have long been critical of Thailand’s criminal defamation law, which is seen as inhibiting free speech. In a statement earlier this week, Amnesty International called on Thai authorities to remove criminal penalties for defamation and “ensure that such charges are not used to restrict the right to freedom of expression”.
And Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch, said: “This is a sad day for freedom of expression in Thailand.
“We fear that many other human rights defenders and victims of company abuse will be scared to silence by this ruling.”
GUILTY: Supporters shower Andy Hall with flowers at court yesterday