British labour rights activist gets 3 years suspended jail term

A Thai court has handed a three year suspended jail term to Andy Hall, a well-known British migrant labour rights defender, for defaming a canned fruit company.

On 20 September 2016, Bangkok’s Southern Criminal Court read a verdict on the case between Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a Thai canned fruit company based in southern Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, and Andy Hall, a well-known human rights defender who advocates for migrant worker rights.

Natural Fruit accused Hall of offences under Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Act for defaming the company after interviews he conducted with Myanmar migrants working in the pineapple and tuna export industry were used in the Finnwatch report, Cheap Has a High Price.

The report, published in 2013, outlined particularly poor labour conditions in Natural Fruit's factories, which sell pineapple concentrate to Finnish supermarkets.

In 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 when working overtime. In addition, the company also hired children below 15 years old to work in the factory.

On another count, the company accused Hall of defaming the company during a press conference about the report on migrant labour abuse at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT).

The court ruled that Hall was guilty and sentenced him to four years imprisonment with a 200,000 baht fine.

However, as he was cooperative during the trial, active in human rights advocacy and has never been imprisoned before, the court reduced the jail term and fine by one third to three years imprisonment with a 150,000 baht fine. The jail term was suspended for two years.

Sonja Vartiala, Director of Finnwatch, told media that she is shocked by the verdict, BBC Thai reported.

She said that the report was published by Finnwatch and Hall is only a scapegoat. "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," BBC Thai quoted Sonja as saying.

About 50 people were at the court to listen to the verdict, including officers from the Embassy of Finland, the European Union Commission and International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Before the verdict hearing started, about 20 migrant workers from Myanmar came to give moral support for Hall.

Andy Hall in front of Bangkok’s Southern Criminal Court on 20 September 2016

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