Tuesday 6 December 2016

Thai court rejects defamation case against British activist

Published 03/11/2016 | 05:11

The defamation case against activist Andy Hall, pictured, was dismissed by Thailand's supreme court (AP)
The defamation case against activist Andy Hall, pictured, was dismissed by Thailand's supreme court (AP)

Thailand's top court has dismissed a criminal defamation case against a British activist brought by a fruit canning company and the attorney general.

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But Andy Hall's suspended prison sentence in a related case still stands.

Mr Hall faces two more civil defamation cases brought by the canning company in an all-out legal assault that has raised serious concerns among human rights workers and free speech advocates.

On Thursday the supreme court said it was throwing out an appeal by the attorney general and Natural Fruit against a decision by lower courts exonerating Mr Hall.

The case relates to an interview that Hall gave to Al-Jazeera television network in Burma in April 2013 about his earlier criminal prosecution by Natural Fruit.

The supreme court said the appeal had no legs because the allegedly defamatory act was committed in Burma where Thai courts have no jurisdiction. It also cited flawed and unlawful interrogation process during police investigation of the case to dismiss the appeal.

"I feel very happy about the verdict as this case was an injustice to me," Mr Hall said after the verdict.

He said he would now sue the attorney general, the police, the prosecutor and Natural Fruit for unlawful prosecution and perjury.

"I do so with deep regret and not at all in anger or through any desire for personal retribution. It is necessary to launch these counter prosecutions simply because I must defend myself fully against judicial harassment by Natural Fruit that shows no signs of abating," he said.

The case has underlined complaints by critics that Thailand's punitive criminal defamation laws can be used to silence whistleblowers and social critics. The law carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.

Mr Hall has been active for several years in Thailand in employment rights advocacy, especially involving migrant workers, who lack protections both in practice and under the law.

His legal troubles are in connection with a 2013 report he researched for the Finnish consumer organisation Finnwatch that alleged abuses at Natural Fruit bases.

In September Bangkok South Criminal Court found Mr Hall guilty of criminal defamation against Natural Fruit and sentenced him to four years in prison, reduced by one year and suspended by two years.

He was also fined 150,000 baht (£3,480), which he paid to secure his freedom. That sentence remains, but Mr Hall is planning to appeal against the conviction.

He also has to deal with two other pending civil defamation cases by Natural Fruit.

"The campaign of judicial harassment that has been waged against Andy Hall for almost four years now has already sadly been successful." said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch.

"As many have feared, this campaign has also had a negative impact far beyond the case of Andy himself. We have heard from a number of migrant workers and activists how they are now deeply afraid to speak out on abuse workers face from Thai employers."

AP

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