Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the guilty verdict against British labor activist Andy Hall and calls on the Thailand Appeals Court to overturn the verdict on appeal. On September 20, Mr. Hall was convicted on charges of criminal defamation and sentenced to three years in prison, with a two-year suspended sentence. The charges were in connection with his contribution to a 2013 Finnwatch report that highlighted various violations of migrant workers’ rights committed by Natural Fruit, a large wholesaler in Thailand. Mr. Hall, a migration expert from Mahidol University, led a field research team for Finnwatch. The Finnwatch report exposed dangerous working conditions and discrimination of migrant workers at Natural Fruit, among other violations. Mr. Hall intends to appeal the guilty verdict.
“Instead of dragging Mr. Hall into court and putting him in prison, the Thai government should have thanked Mr. Hall for his work and investigated these troubling labor violations,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Mr. Hall is being persecuted for exposing abusive labor practices at a large corporation that has ties to officials in Thailand’s authoritarian regime,” Halvorssen concluded.
Mr. Hall’s defamation charge was based on an Al Jazeera interview during which he spoke about the findings of the report. He was also charged with “computer crimes” for supposedly uploading confidential information to the Finnwatch website.
Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — of which Thailand is a signatory — freedom of expression, including the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds,” must be protected by all governments. International law further requires that, in a defamation prosecution, public interest of the subject matter must be a defense available to the defendant. Moreover, Thailand’s criminal defamation law states that anyone who expresses in good faith an opinion or a statement of “any person or thing subjected to public criticism” will not be guilty of defamation.
“Although Thailand provides protection for freedom of expression in its laws, that protection has clearly not extended to Mr. Hall in this case. The violation of workers’ rights by a large corporation is an issue of public interest, the occurrence of which without a doubt should be subject to robust criticism,” said Joy Jiao, international legal associate of HRF. “By prosecuting and convicting Mr. Hall on defamation charges, Thailand has failed to follow its own laws and failed to comply with international standards in the protection of free speech. The Thai court should overturn the trial verdict,” Jiao added.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.