Labor rights defender Andy Hall ordered to pay damages by Thai court

A United Kingdom-based labor-rights activist who helped expose abuse in multiple food industries in Thailand has been ordered to pay THB 10,000,000 (USD 321,000, EUR 259,000) by the Prakanong Court in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Andy Hall, who was a featured speaker at the 2016 SeaWeb Seafood Summit, was ordered to pay the damages after Finnwatch – a Finnish non-governmental organization – published a report exposing rights violations at National Fruit Co Ltd. Hall was named in the case after he conducted research for the report, and was interviewed by media organizations about his findings. The report detailed National Fruit’s mistreatment of workers, which allegedly included violence, child labor, forced overtime, and the confiscation of passports. 

The civil damages relate specifically to an interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera English in Myanmar in April 2013. Natural Fruit filed multiple cases against Hall, under both the criminal and civil defamation provisions in Thailand’s criminal code, including allegations under the country’s Computer Crimes Act, because the interview was published online. 

The decision is the result of nearly five years of court battles and multiple appeals. The court had dismissed the civil case, citing lack of jurisdiction to try the case since Hall was in Myanmar when the interview – and allegedly defamatory comments – occurred. However an appeal by Natural Fruit to the Appeals Court ordered the Prakanong Court to accept jurisdiction and hear the case in full in August 2017. 

Hall was previously sentenced to criminal defamation in September 2016 by the Bangkok South Criminal Court, which sentenced him to four years imprisonment and ordered him to pay a THB 150,000 (USD 4,800 EUR 3,800) fine. The prison sentence was reduced by one year, and suspended for two, and after payment of the fine Hall was released from temporary detention. Hall’s legal team has appealed the ruling, and a further hearing is scheduled for 24 April, 2018.  

The Thai court’s decision to order damages has been strongly condemned by a number of human rights organizations across the world, including the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). The damages are seen as an attempt by the Royal Thai Government to suppress advocates looking into labor rights abuses. 

“This verdict is the latest demonstration that despite the Royal Thai Government’s stated intentions to reduce migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, the Thai judicial system is being used to stifle the ability of workers and their advocates to report abuse,” ILRF Executive Director Judy Gerhart said. “State and business actors are working together to send a clear message to migrant workers that speaking out about abuses will come at a high cost. This disappointing outcome also shows that Thailand is failing to live up to its commitments to protect human rights defenders under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Photo courtesy of Finnwatch


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