Thailand: British rights activist goes on trial for defamation


16 May 2016                                                                                      

Update #1 to RAN 01/16

PEN International calls on the Thai authorities to drop all charges against migrant rights activist Andy Hall ahead of his court hearing on 19 May 2016. Following a Bangkok court’s 18 January decision, Hall faces charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes in connection with a report published by Finnwatch in 2013. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison. PEN International believes that the charges against Hall are directly linked to his peaceful and legitimate work as a migrant rights advocate and calls for all charges against him to be dropped immediately and unconditionally.

Take action!

Please send appeals:

  • Calling for all charges against Andy Hall to be dropped as they are in direct violation of his right to freedom of expression in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party;
  • Reiterating serious concern over the use of criminal defamation and computer-crime laws to gag critical voices;
  • Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression, including by decriminalising defamation and insult.

Appeals to:

Leader of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Army Headquarters,
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Bangkok 10200,
Thailand
Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
E-mail: prforeign@gmail.com
Salutation: Dear General

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Thai Embassy in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.

****Please contact this office if sending appeals after 18 June 2016. Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.****

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in national or local press highlighting the case of Andy Hall and the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand.

Background 

British rights activist and blogger, Andy Hall, was charged with criminal defamation, as well as offences under the Computer Crimes Act, after publishing a report on alleged abuses of migrant workers committed by the Natural Fruit Company Limited, a fruit processing company in Thailand.

The report, published in late 2012, by the Finnish NGO Finnwatch, in connection to a report published in 2013 entitled, Cheap has a high price: Responsibility problems relating to international private label products and food production in Thailand, focuses on production practices of juices and fruit sold in Finland, and was reportedly based on interviews with employees, many of them undocumented migrants from Myanmar, who suffered labour rights abuses, from poor working conditions to child labour. Natural Fruit has denied the allegations.

Andy Hall was the lead researcher of the report, while working as Associate Researcher at Mahidol University in Thailand, and was responsible for coordinating the field research and conducting interviews with migrant workers from Myanmar, with the help of a team of others.

In its prosecution documents, Natural Fruit cites the presence of Hall’s name alongside others on the front page of an English Executive Summary of the report as evidence of Hall’s ownership and responsibility for the report as well as alleging that he was involved in the dissemination of the report on Finnwatch’s website –allegations denied by Finnwatch, who have asserted that they are the authors of the report and that Hall has no access to their website. Finnwatch have condemned National Fruit’s choice to prosecute a private individual instead of the organisation that authored and bears responsibility for the report.

Charges were first filed against Hall in February 2013. On 18 September 2015, an appeals court dismissed one case of defamation filed against him by the Natural Fruit Company, ruling that neither the Natural Fruit Company nor state prosecutors had grounds to sue for defamation in Thailand. Natural Fruit are reported to be appealing the ruling at the Supreme Court.

At a bail hearing held on 13 January 2016, a Bangkok court imposed a travel ban upon him and confiscated Hall’s passport. He was formally indicted on charges of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act relating to the Finnwatch report on 18 January 2016. The criminal charges in this case carry a maximum combined penalty of seven years’ imprisonment in addition to possible fines.

Hall’s trial is due to begin on 19 May 2016, where the court is expected to hear testimony of prosecution witnesses for three days. Testimony of the defence is expected to be heard over eight days in June and July. The final ruling in the case is expected in September 2016.

Two cases of civil defamation remain pending against Hall, with damages of over US$13 million being sought. As these two cases are intrinsically linked to the criminal cases, rulings are dependent on their outcomes.

In May 2014, Thailand underwent its 12th successful military coup d’état since 1932 following almost seven months of escalating political violence. The coup imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and granted wide-ranging executive and legislative powers to its military leaders. In the wake of the coup tight control of the media was imposed; many television and radio stations were shut down and journalists and academics arrested. Martial law was finally revoked in March 2015.

UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws such as those imposed in Thailand are incompatible with international standards on free expression.  In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

For further information please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-international.org