On 22 February 2013, human rights defender Mr Andy Hall was informed that a criminal lawsuit had been lodged against him, at Nakhon Prathom court on 14 February 2013. The case is based on a complaint filed by the Thai fruit processor Natural Fruit Company Limited in Pranburi Prachuapkirikhan Province.
Andy Hall is a prominent migrant and labour rights defender based in Thailand and Burma.
Andy Hall was informed by a European journalist of the existence of the defamation lawsuit initiated against him. The human rights defender is accused of defaming and damaging the company by “broadcasting false statements to public media”, following the publication of a report in January 2013 which he co-authored and researched. A trial date has reportedly been set for 10 April 2013, while evidence would be heard on 28 April. If convicted, Andy Hall faces a fine of 300 million Baht (approx €7.7 million).
In additional to the lawsuit above, a lawsuit was lodged against Andy Hall on the criminal charge of broadcasting false statements based on a complaint filed by the Natural Fruit Company. If found guilty under these charges, the human rights defender could be imprisoned for a maximum of 2 years, with an additional fine of 200,000 Baht (approx €5,100).
Established in 2001, the Natural Fruit Company processes canned and concentrate pineapple, as well as other canned fruit products. In January 2013, a report entitled “Cheap has a high price: Responsibility problems relating to international private label products and food production in Thailand” was published by Finnwatch, a Finnish non-profit organisation that studies the responsibility of global business.
The report investigated the production practices of private label juices sold in Finland, including the Natural Fruit Company. Andy Hall was lead researcher of the report, working at the time as Associate Researcher at Mahidol University in Thailand.
Based on testimony taken in November 2011 from employees working in various departments of the company's Pranburi plant in Pranburi Prachuapkirikhan Province, the report found that the Natural Fruit Company had committed serious labour and human rights violations against its workers, in particular against migrant and irregular workers, as well as other reportedly illegal activities. The interviews were carried out in secret, as workers reportedly feared acts of reprisal following their participation in the research.
Despite being approached by Finnwatch and Andy Hall on numerous occasions, the Natural Fruit Company did not agree to meet with the researchers or contribute to the report. The only contact Andy Hall had with the company was during the launch of the report at the offices of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT), when an individual who introduced himself as a representative of the Natural Fruit Company approached him. Upon the initial release of the report's findings in December 2012, Finnwatch sent communications to the authorities of Finland, the European Union and Thailand, as well as several labour and human rights organisations.
Front Line Defenders expresses concern at the lawsuits filed against human rights defender Andy Hall, and believes them to be solely motivated by his work as a prominent migrant rights defender in Thailand, in particular his role as researcher and co-author of the above mentioned report. Front Line Defenders believes this legal action to be an attempt to silence human rights defenders in Thailand who, peacefully and legitimately, exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, in order to defend and promote migrant and labour rights.