Finnwatch Researcher Andy Hall Detained in Cell by Thai Court on Natural Fruit Charges Prior to Court Approval for Industry Bail Out, Passport Confiscated.
Andy Hall and his team, with TFFA/TTIA representatives, in front of the Prakanong Court today prior to Hall's detention.
British migrant rights activist Andy Hall, who campaigns to improve conditions for migrant workers in Thailand, was formally detained in a court cell following meeting with officials at the Prakanong Public Prosecutors Office, Bangkok where he went to learn the public prosecutor’s decision whether the latest criminal charges filed against him by Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. would be ordered prosecuted.
The Prosecutor was acting on behalf of Thailand's Attorney General, who is now prosecuting the case. The Attorney General and then Prakanong Court accepted the Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall case on charges of criminal defamation, read the charge to Hall formally and Hall then pleaded not guilty to all charges. The Attorney General's reasons for accepting the case were reportedly that Hall foresaw when interviewing Aljazeera, regarding the Finnwatch report on Natural Fruit, that the damage against the injured party would occur in Thailand.
- Finnwatch is very disappointed about the courts decision to accept the case. Such criminal charges are judicial harassment against a human rights defender, said Executive Director Sonja Vartiala.
After pleading not guilty to the charge, Hall was then detained for two hours in a cell below the Prakanong courthouse with prisoners on their way to jail, but was then released on bail. The Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA) and Thai Tuna Industry Association (TTIA) provided the bail as a symbol of support for Andy Hall's work as a human rights defender and migration expert. Finnwatch also offered to pay the bail for Andy Hall.
As a condition of bail, Hall's passport was confiscated and he can't leave Thailand to return home to Myanmar where he resides unless the court approves his departure, the case against him is considered and rejected or if found guilty, until he has served his sentence.
Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a company based in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of Thailand, began a series of civil and criminal prosecutions against Andy Hall in February 2013. Charges relate to his role in conducting interviews with migrants from Myanmar working in the pineapple and tuna export industry to assist Finnwatch to compile a report, Cheap Has a High Price. This report, released in Jan 2013 and updated in Jan 2014, outlined particularly poor labour conditions in Natural Fruit's factory, selling pineapple concentrate to Finnish supermarkets.
Legal action against Hall has raised international criticism. In addition to Finnwatch, numerous NGOs and global union federations have condemned the harassment. 5 UN Special Rapporteurs have sought clarifications amidst concern Hall is being targeted for his work to promote migrant rights.
– Hall told us he will voluntary take part in all judicial processes. He has done nothing wrong and hopes his case will shed only further light on systematic migrant rights abuses in Thailand, said Vartiala.
Together Natural Fruit has raised 4 charges against Hall. The initial 2 criminal charges relate to defamation by publication/propogation under the Thai Criminal Code and breach of the Computer Crimes Act, for which initial hearings have begun but the case awaits summons delivery confirmation by the Bangkok South Criminal Court. A third charge relates to civil defamation. The latest and fourth charge against Hall, Natural Fruit Company Ltd. filed additional criminal charges against Hall at Bangna Police Station for criminal defamation.
If found guilty of criminal charges laid against him at Bangkok South Criminal Court, Hall could face together seven years in prison per count. Natural Fruit are also claiming 300 million baht ($10 million) in damages from Hall in the civil case filed at Nakhon Pathom Civil Court. The latest charges at Bangna Police Station that were today taken forward by the Attorney General and Prakanong Court carry a maximum sentence of one years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 20, 000 Baht (US$650).
Serious problems in Natural Fruit's labour conditions have been highlighted in several other reports and research as well as the Finnwatch report, to which Hall assisted initially. According to Finnwatch's information, Thai authorities have not raised any legal actions against Natural Fruit.