Thursday, March 7, 2013

UK rights advocate faces libel suit in Thailand


Thursday, 07 March 2013 13:59  The Bangkok Post

A Prachuap Khiri Khan pineapple canning company filed criminal defamation charges against a British human rights advocate over treatment of migrant workers by the company.

Migrant rights advocate Andy hall (right) pictured with Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Yangon. Photo: Andy Hall

Natural Fruit Co Ltd, which has headquarters in Pran Buri, claimed that Andy Hall, a British citizen, had damaged its reputation with libellous statements about its relations with migrant workers, according to papers at the website of the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court's website and NGO sources.

Mr Hall, 32, well-known in Thailand although he was reportedly in Myanmar on Tuesday, faces charges under the Computer Crimes Act that carry penalties of up to five years in prison on each count.

In addition, the company filed a civil suit at the Nakhon Pathom Court claiming 300 million baht (US $10 million) in civil damages caused by Mr Hall's discussion of Natural Fruit and the migrant workers.

It is the second time Natural Fruit has instituted legal action against the British advocate. A previous suit cited interviews and allegedly libellous remarks Mr Hall made Jan 15-21 in Bangkok, including at a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT).

The suits alleged that at least three media outlets posted reports of interviews with Mr Hall. The lawsuits also cited, but did not charge, the human rights group FinnWatch, which has researched the issue of migrant workers at Natural Fruit.

According to the lawsuits seen at the court's website, Natural Fruit claimed it "was damaged by (Mr Hall's) accusation that it violated human rights and labour rights by hiring workers under 15 years" of age, paid them wages below the minimum wage, and provided no holidays or bonus, all illegal acts.

The company also denied reports it had illegally confiscated passports of workers.

"These reports and information have caused damage to the company, brought insults and hatred from the public, both inside the country and internationally," the suits alleged.

The court scheduled the first preliminary hearing on the defamation charges for April 1.

NGO circles on Tuesday were buzzing with concern over the possible long prison sentences and high compensation demanded by Natural Fruit.
This article was originally published in The Bangkok Post on March 6, 2013.
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