Court acquits former worker and human rights advocate over chicken farm defamation

The criminal court has acquitted a Myanmar ex-employee and a human rights advocate sued for defamation by Thammakaset, a Lop-buri based chicken farm company, over a video interview about bad working conditions. The verdict found the video was fair comment.

Left to right: Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri

On 8 June, the Criminal Court on Ratchadapisek Road, Bangkok, gave its verdict in a defamation case brought by Thammakaset Co Ltd against Sutharee Wannasiri, formerly with the human rights advocacy organization Fortify Rights, and Nan Win, a former Thammakaset  employee from Myanmar.

The lawsuit was filed by a company proxy, Charnchai Permpol. It claimed that Nan Win’s video interview with Fortify Rights about worker exploitation defamed the company. It also sued Sutharee over her post with a caption and the video link.

According to the verdict, Charnchai testified that the company was defamed by incorrect information given by Nan Win in the interview. The allegations of exploitative working conditions and confiscation of passports were not true. Charnchai referred to a Department of Labour Protection press briefing and the fact that the defendant travelled outside the country very often.

The defendants denied the accusation. Nan Win said that long working hours were caused by a system that required workers to keep a lookout for wild animals, preventing them from enjoying proper rest. Also, the duty of cleaning pens at night, confirmed by a previous labour court ruling, can be considered as deprivation of rest.

On the confiscation of passports, the court referred to a report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) regarding the case, which acknowledged the confiscation but did not consider it as an intentional detention. However, the wage deductions were established.

On the accusation against Sutharee, the court found that her tweet did not refer to the plaintiff. The alleged content of the interview were gathered from various sources consisting of factual information from the Labour Ombudsman, the NHRC report and the Labour Court verdict which were also presented in media reports. Therefore, it is considered as fair comment.

The court therefore acquitted the defendants.

Thammakaset has brought a total of at least 37 complaints against 22 human rights defenders. This year, it filed 3 defamation lawsuits against human rights advocates: Thanaporn Saleephol, Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun.

The latest 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, with expressions of support for human rights defenders facing lawsuits by Thammakaset and links to news releases published by Fortify Rights about the cases.

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer from the Community Resource Centre Foundation and Thanaporn’s lawyer, who has also been responsible for the cases of Angkhana and Puttanee, said the company files lawsuits related to the allegedly defamatory Fortify Rights video even when the video is not directly involved.

Source: 
https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/06/88044

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