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Thammakaset files new criminal complaints against human rights defenders

Thai chicken farm company Thammakaset has filed two new criminal complaints against former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit and Fortify Rights Senior Human Rights Specialist Puttanee Kangkun for their tweets and re-tweets expressing support for human rights defenders facing lawsuits from Thammakaset and linking to news releases published by Fortify Rights about the cases.

Thai authorities should drop spurious complaints and charges brought by Thai chicken company Thammakaset Company Limited against women human rights defenders, Fortify Rights said today.

Thammakaset filed one new complaint with two counts of criminal defamation against 2019 Magsaysay Award recipient and former Thailand Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit and one new complaint with  seven counts against Fortify Rights Senior Human Rights Specialist Puttanee Kangkun for lawful social media engagement.
 
With these new complaints, Angkhana Neelapaijit faces a total of four counts of criminal defamation and up to eight years in prison and 800,000 Thai Baht (about US$25,000) in fines. Puttanee Kangkun faces a total of 21 counts of criminal defamation and up to 42 years in prison and 4.2 million Thai Baht (about US$133,000) in fines.

“The longer these cases proceed, the more it appears the Thai government condones judicial harassment of women human rights defenders. Thailand needs to fix the law and system to prevent businesses from undermining rights,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “No one should face criminal penalties for using freedom of expression to support human rights defenders.”

The new complaints relate to one tweet and one re-tweet posted by Angkhana Neelapaijit and one tweet and six re-tweets posted by Puttanee Kangkun between November 29, 2019 and January 30, 2020. The social media posts included expressions of support for human rights defenders facing lawsuits by Thammakaset and links to news releases published by Fortify Rights about the cases.

Another woman human rights defender Thanaporn Saleephol faces similar charges for two tweets and three re-tweets posted between November 24, 2019 and January 30, 2020 while she was working with Fortify Rights. She faces up to 10 years in prison and one million Thai Baht (about US$31,700) in fines if convicted.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court scheduled mediation sessions between Thammakaset and the three women on August 5, 2020 to discuss the new complaints. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for August 17 in Thanaporn Saleephol’s case and August 31 for the cases of Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun should the mediation fail.

Due to the closure of the courts during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Bangkok South Criminal Court postponed previously scheduled preliminary hearings on earlier complaints filed by Thammakaset against Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun to June 8. The Community Resource Center (CRC), the Thai nonprofit law firm providing legal representation for the three women human rights defenders, will request a new preliminary hearing schedule for the women on June 8.

CRC will also request the court to dismiss the new complaints against Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun under Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code, which allows the court to dismiss complaints brought “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts to harass or take advantage of a defendant. The court rejected requests by CRC to dismiss the earlier complaints against Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun under Section 161/1. The court is also considering a similar request by CRC to dismiss the complaint against Thanaporn Saleephol.

The Bangkok Criminal Court will also issue a verdict on June 8 in the case against human rights defender and former Thammakaset employee Nan Win, who is from Myanmar, and former Fortify Rights Thailand Human Rights Specialist Sutharee Wannasiri. The cases against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri stem from complaints originally filed by Thammakaset in October 2018.

On July 16, the Appeal Court will also issue a verdict on Thammakaset’s appeal of the Bangkok Criminal Court’s decision on September 18, 2019 to dismiss criminal defamation complaints against Mahidol University lecturer Ngamsuk Ruttanasatian. Thammakaset filed a complaint against Ngamsuk Ruttanasatian for allegedly sharing a Fortify Rights news release on the Facebook page of Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies.

Thammakaset has brought a total of at least 37 complaints against 22 human rights defenders.

The 2017 Constitution of Thailand protects the right to freedom of expression, as does Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a state party. Criminal defamation in Thailand creates a chilling effect on free speech in the country.

On March 2020, a group of U.N. experts issued a communication letter to the Thai government to raise concern about “the continued judicial harassment by Thammakaset, of human rights defenders, migrant workers, journalists and academics for denouncing exploitative working conditions of migrant workers at the poultry farm of this Thai company.”

Thailand is the first country in Asia to endorse the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and the Action Plan for Human Rights Defenders is one of four key areas. However, there is no concrete mechanism to protect human rights defenders from threats and intimidations.

From June 9 to 11, the U.N. will host the Virtual Forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights: Asia and the Pacific. The issue of judicial harassment and use of strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) by businesses will be a key topic of discussion.

“The Thai government has done nothing to stop Thammakaset from filing these harmful and spurious complaints,” said Amy Smith. “The upcoming business and human rights forum is an opportunity for the government and rights-respecting businesses to stand up for free speech and human rights defenders.”