AP NEWS

Thai court affirms defamation judgment against UK activist

May 22, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — An appeals court in Thailand on Wednesday upheld a 10 million baht ($313,000) judgment against a British activist who was sued by a fruit canning company whose workers complained of alleged labor abuses. The case was one of several highlighting the ability of corporations to harass labor activists and human rights workers through expensive legal actions.

Bangkok’s Prakanong Court rejected the appeal of Andy Hall of his March 2018 civil defamation conviction ordering him to pay damages to Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., a Thai pineapple company.

It was was one of several lawsuits stemming from a 2013 report Hall researched for Finnish consumer organization Finnwatch that included allegations by migrant workers from Myanmar at Natural Fruit’s canning operation that the company abused them and broke labor regulations.

Another appeals court last year dismissed a criminal defamation suit against Hall for the same affair, accepting that the allegations should be made public.

“I will liaise with my legal defense team to appeal the ruling to Thailand’s Supreme Court. Whilst I respect today’s ruling, I am disappointed by the verdict,” Hall said in an emailed statement. “My activism for over a decade in Thailand intended only to promote and uphold the fundamental rights of millions of migrant workers in the country.”

He added that he remains “open to reconciliation to put an end once and for all to this continued and irrational cycle of litigation.”

Hall’s lawyer, Nakhon Chomphuchat, described the suit as “a normal action for capitalists who do not care for human rights. They only think that if the law doesn’t clearly say that they had violated rights, then they shouldn’t be branded or accused of doing that.”

He cautioned that fees to file an appeal with the Supreme Court might be prohibitively high.

Phone calls to Natural Fruit for comment went unanswered.

Hall has been embroiled in a similar long-running battle with a Thai poultry farm, Thammakaset Co., which has filed 15 lawsuits against the British activist, other workers’ advocates, a journalist and several former workers. Much of that litigation is ongoing, though the workers’ side has won some important cases favoring whistle-blowers. The company said it had suffered losses due to allegations made by the workers in a 2016 complaint filed with Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission.

Hall fled Thailand in 2016, because he believed he could not effectively defend against harassment through the courts. He is now based in Nepal where he continues to focus on migrant worker issues.

Finnwatch said it was “shocked” by Wednesday’s ruling because last year’s appeal court decision had determined that the findings in the report Hall did were well founded. Wednesday’s case involved an interview Hall gave to the Al Jazeera news network.

Surya Deva, chair of the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights, told The Associated Press that “All business enterprises have a responsibility to respect all human rights under the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

“These continuous legal proceedings pursued by Natural Fruit are not in line with the Guiding Principles, as they are having a chilling effect on the legitimate role of civil society organizations in holding businesses accountability for human rights abuses,” Deva, an associate professor at City University of Hong Kong, said in an email interview.

He said “the Thai government also has an obligation to ensure that its legal framework is not misused by companies to harass civil society and human rights defenders, who have a critical role in promoting human rights.”