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British cyber-activist sued by Thai fruit company

September 19, 2015

Reporters Without Borders calls on the Thai pineapple processing company Natural Fruit and the Thai judicial authorities to abandon the three defamation cases still pending against British human rights defender Andy Hall after a Bangkok court dismissed a fourth one today.

The case dismissed today ends the criminal defamation proceedings against Hall over an interview for Al Jazeera in April 2013 in which he commented on the earlier lawsuits that Natural Fruit brought against him over a report by the Finnish NGO Finnwatch for which he works.

An expert on migratory issues, Hall did an investigation for Finnwatch in 2012 into the conditions of Burmese migrant workers at a National Fruit processing plant in southern Thailand.

When a Finnwatch report entitled “Cheap has a high price,” published in January 2013, highlighted grave human rights at the plant, Natural Fruit reacted immediately, bringing civil and criminal defamation cases against Hall but refraining from suing Finnwatch itself.

Including the case filed after the Al Jazeera interview, a total of four cases were brought against Hall, two criminal ones and two civil ones seeking damages. The first criminal case, brought immediately after the report’s publication, also included a charge under the notorious Computer Crimes Act (CCA) that carries a possible seven-year jail term.

After seven preliminary hearings from November 2014 to August 2015, a Bangkok criminal ruled that Hall should be formally indicted at a hearing set for 19 October. He will plead not guilty. Natural Fruit is also seeking 400 million bahts (10 million euros) in damages, an exorbitant amount showing that the company’s objective is to harass and intimidate.

“We unreservedly condemn this judicial harassment of a human rights defender who documented grave violations of fundamental freedoms,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

“The judicial system is once again aiming at the wrong target. Instead of tolerating this abusive recourse to Thailand’s defamation legislation and the Computer Crimes Act, it should pay closer attention violations of the rights of migrants working for Natural Fruit.”

Ismaïl added: “Reforms of the criminal code and Computer Crimes Act are urgently needed. As long as such draconian laws continue to exist, cases of harassment of information providers will continue to proliferate and will perpetuate the disastrous climate of self-censorship.”

The human rights violations denounced in the Finnwatch report were partially corroborated by a governmental investigation at the Natural Fruit plant in February 2013. The Thai judicial authorities nonetheless took no action against any of the company’s executives or its owner, Wirat Piyapornpaiboon, elder brother of the current secretary-general of Thailand’s Democratic Party.

The Computer Crimes Act is often used to intimidate journalists and bloggers who publish sensitive information.

Phuketwan news website journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian were charged with defamation and violating the Computer Crimes Act in December 2013 over a July 2013 article about Burma’s Rohingya refugees headlined: “Thai military profiting from trade in boatpeople, says special report.”

The prosecution was prompted by a quotation from a detailed Reuters report that said “Thai naval forces” were being paid by refugee traffickers to provide assistance or turn a blind eye. Reuters was not however sued.

Thailand is ranked 134th out of 180 counties in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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For more information contact:
Reporters Without Borders
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84

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