NGOs call for an end to harassment of human rights defenders in Thailand (Mizzima (Burma))

Around 30 NGOs and trade unions made a demand to Thailand to end harassment of researchers and human rights defenders in the run-up to the final preliminary hearing in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, brought by Natural Fruit against researcher and activist Andy Hall, on 20 July.

British human rights defender Mr Hall said his lawyer’s team informed him the Bangkok South Criminal Court had adjourned the decision until August 24.

If found guilty of the defamation charges against him in all four cases he faces, Mr Hall could receive punishment of up to seven years in jail and US$8.7 million in damages.

He is facing the charges based on the report Cheap has a high price: Responsibility problems relating to international private label products and food production in Thailand, published by Finnish NGO Finnwatch.

The NGOs expressed concern that the case was still being pursued.

The Attorney General’s appeal against a case that has already been thrown out of a court has no grounds whatsoever. Thailand is continuing to harass a human rights defender despite a court decision and its obligation to uphold freedom of speech, said Finnwatch Executive Director Sonja Vartiala.

Natural Fruit has filed multiple criminal and civil cases against Mr Hall since February 2013 as a result of his contribution to a Finnwatch report published in 2013. The report revealed serious alleged human rights violations at Natural Fruit’s pineapple juice production facilities on the basis of workers’ interviews. Natural Fruit refused to comment on the research findings before the publication of the report.

The allegations against Andy Hall who interviewed workers for the report, are ridiculous. Finnwatch bears the responsibility for the publication and contents of the report, not Hall, said Ms Vartiala.

For example, she said, the Thai Ministry of Labour has confirmed the findings of the workers’ interviews in its own inadequate investigation. The findings have also been confirmed by a Natural Fruit employee who gave testimony in court. To date no one has been held responsible for the human rights violations at the Natural Fruit plant.

Thai authorities must show that they do not turn a blind eye to illegalities. We demand the Thai government to take Natural Fruit to court for labour rights violations, said Ms Vartiala.

Natural Fruit has brought altogether four separate cases against Mr Hall. If the court decides to indict him, Mr Hall will be arrested and detained pending bail. He then faces a trial and if found guilty and convicted, up to seven years in prison.

The US State Department downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The TIP-report recommended that Thailand cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking, and recognise the valuable role of NGOs and workers’ organisations in uncovering the nature and scope of human trafficking in Thailand.

The actions of the Thai authorities go clearly against the recommendations in the US government report on human trafficking, said Ms Vartiala.