The Thai criminal court has dismissed criminal defamation charges against Andy Hall, a British human rights defender and migration researcher. This is one of the four libel cases filed by a processed fruit company after Hall publicised poor human rights records and abusive labour conditions in the company’s factories.
Phra Khanong Provincial Court, Bangkok, on Wednesday morning dismissed the first criminal libel case against Andy Hall, a freelance human rights and migration researcher, due incorrect investigation procedures.
In this case, Hall was accused of defaming the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a canned fruit company, by stating in an interview with Al Jazeera that Myanmar migrant workers in the company’s factories were abused and poorly treated.
Since the interview was conducted in Myanmar, a member of the public prosecution service needed to join the investigation process from the beginning. Because the investigation was conducted solely by the police, the court ruled at around 10.30 am on Tuesday that the prosecutor did not have the authority to file the case due to the incorrect procedure.
Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., based in southern Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of Thailand, instituted a series of civil and criminal prosecutions against Hall in February 2013. The charges relate to his role in conducting interviews with migrants from Myanmar working in the pineapple and tuna export industry to be used in a Finnwatch report, Cheap Has a High Price. This 2013 report outlined particularly poor labour conditions in Natural Fruit's factories, which sell pineapple concentrate to Finnish supermarkets.
According to the report, Hall stated that the migrant workers had their passports confiscated by Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. They were paid below the minimum wage and not paid for working overtime. In addition, the company also hired children below 15 years old to work in the factory.
Hall's friends and Myanmar migrant workers show support for him in front of Phra Khanong Provincial Court on 29 October 2014
The company has filed the following four charges against Hall:
Criminal defamation for accusing the company of abusing its migrant workers’ rights and using child labour in an interview with Al Jazeera. The case was filed at Bangkok’s Phra Khanong Provincial Court. (Dismissed)
Criminal defamation breaching Article 14 (1) of the 2007 Computer Crime Act by propagating false information against the company. The case was filed at Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. (trial: 30 October)
Civil defamation for causing financial damage to the company. The case was filed at Nakhon Pathom Civil Court. The company has claimed 300 million baht (about 10 million USD) in damages from Hall. (trial: 17 November)
Criminal defamation filed at Bang Na Police Station. (trial has not been scheduled)
The Attorney General and then Phra Khanong Provincial Court accepted the first criminal defamation case that Natural Fruit filed against Hall on 19 June. He pleaded not guilty and was briefly detained in a cell below the Phra Khanong courthouse.
Approximately 20 observers from human rights organizations attended the verdict reading on Wednesday morning while about 50 migrant workers came to support Hall outside the courtroom.
The legal action against Hall has raised international criticism. Finnwatch, numerous NGOs, and global union federations have condemned the harassment. UN Special Rapporteurs have sought clarifications amid concerns that Hall is being targeted for his work to promote migrant rights.