UK labour activist to face fresh Thai defamation trial

18th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

A British activist must face a new criminal defamation trial, a Thai court ruled Monday, the latest in a slew of cases tied to a rights report documenting labour abuses in Thailand's lucrative fruit sector.

Andy Hall, who has lived in the kingdom for several years and speaks Thai, had previously been acquitted by a court last year on a defamation charge pursued by Thailand's Attorney General.

But Natural Fruit, the company at the heart of the dispute, has filed a string of its own criminal and civil cases against Hall, including a private prosecution on criminal defamation and computer crime charges.

Hall, 34, tweeted the outcome of today's hearing, saying the court had agreed to a 12-day trial starting on 19 May. He faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.

"I respect but strongly disagree with the court's decision," he told AFP, adding that he contributed research to a report which was published on a website overseas.

He added that Thai laws were being used to "seriously curtail... freedom of expression and the ability to assist migrant victims of abuse, trafficking and exploitation".

Both Thailand's criminal defamation and computer misuse laws have long been criticised by rights groups for their broad wording and the ease with which they can be used to stifle investigative work.

Hall co-authored a 2013 report centred on working conditions at a Natural Fruit factory in southern Thailand levelling accusations of forced and child labour, unlawfully low wages and long hours.

Titled "Cheap Has a High Price" and published by the Finnish civil rights group Finnwatch, the report redoubled scrutiny of Thailand's food industry which has faced years of allegations of mistreatment of its mainly migrant labour force.

Thailand has long turned to migrants from poorer neighbours Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos to help keep major industries afloat, from seafood and food processing to construction.

The European Union has threatened to blacklist Thailand's huge fishing sector, partially linked to allegations of slavery aboard ships and labour abuses in processing plants.

Last year Thailand was also kept on the bottom rung of the United States's annual ranking for countries accused of turning a blind eye to human trafficking, alongside nations like Libya, North Korea and Eritrea.

Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drink market, has denied the allegations in Hall's report and has also launched a civil case seeking $10 million in damages.

Thailand's Attorney General is also appealing Hall's initial acquittal.

Hall stands by his research and has accused the company of trying to detract from the report's damning findings through legal action.

Officials from the British and Finnish embassies were in court to monitor the case.

© 2016 AFP

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