The ICJ expresses it disappointment with today’s verdict criminalizing the work of human rights defender, Andy Hall, and calls upon Thailand to decriminalise defamation and amend the Computer Crime Act in line with international standards protecting freedom of expression.
This morning, Thailand’s Southern Bangkok Criminal Court found Andy Hall guilty of defaming a Thai fruit processing company under Article 328 of the Thai Criminal Code and violation of Article 14(1) of the Computer Crime Act, and sentenced him to a fine of THB 200,000 (USD$ 5,700) reduced to THB 150,000 (USD $4,300); and four years imprisonment, reduced to three years and suspended for two years.
Andy Hall has said he will appeal the verdict.
“Human rights defenders such as Andy Hall have the right to exercise freedom of expression in advocating for the protection and realization of human rights – a right that Thailand has a duty to protect,” said Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser at the ICJ.
“Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of criminal defamation and the Computer Crime Act being used against human rights defenders in Thailand, a practice that must end, including through a substantial reform of these laws,” he added.
The ICJ and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada submitted a joint amicus curiaebrief in the proceedings, arguing that the imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment or large fines on a human rights defender risk having a ‘chilling effect’ on the exercise of freedom of expression, which Thailand is bound to protect pursuant to its international legal obligations.
The ICJ anticipates the arguments contained in the joint amicus will be considered on appeal.
“It is also disappointing that the Court did not appear to take into account the recent decision of the Phuket Provincial Court in the Phuketwan case, which found that the Computer Crime Act was not intended to be used in cases of alleged defamation,” said Abbott.
On 1 September 2015, the Phuket Provincial Court acquitted two journalistsof criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act after the Royal Thai Navy complained the journalists defamed it when, on 17 July 2013, the journalists reproduced a paragraph from a Pulitzer prize-winning Reuters article that alleged “Thai naval forces” were complicit in human trafficking.
The criminal defamation proceedings brought against Andy Hall are among several that have been brought against human rights defenders in Thailand in recent years.
Others examples include the charges laid against activists Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Somchai Homloar and Anchana Heemina in July 2016 for raising allegations of torture in the deep South; and those brought against activists protesting various development projects in Thailand which are allegedly having an adverse impact on communities.
Today’s case is one of four criminal and civil proceedings (two criminal and two civil) a Thai fruit processing company, Natural Fruit Company Ltd., has brought against Andy Hall in relation to the report of a Finnish NGO, Finnwatch, published in January 2013, called Cheap Has a High Price.
Andy Hall’s research was included in the report which alleged that labour rights violations were taking place at Natural Fruit Company Ltd., whose employees included migrant workers from Myanmar.
In September 2015, a Thai Appeal Court upheld the dismissal of the other criminal defamation proceeding Natural Fruit Company Ltd. brought against Andy Hall. That proceeding is currently before the Supreme Court. Two civil proceedings are also before the Thai courts but have been suspended pending resolution of the two criminal proceedings.
The use of criminal defamation laws, carrying penalties of imprisonment, against human rights defenders reporting on alleged human violations, constitutes a violation of Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a state party.