Pineapple company Natural Fruit Co Ltd’s eight year campaign of judicial harassment against migrant worker rights defender Andy Hall seems closer to ending as the company today withdrew a 300 million baht (more than 8 million euros) defamation case filed against him.
This case related to publication of a 2013 Finnwatch report, Cheap Has a High Price, and concerned civil defamation charges accepted for trial by Nakhon Pathom court in July this year – two weeks after Thailand’s Supreme Court acquitted Hall of criminal charges on the same facts.
This case trial commenced yesterday and was scheduled to last three days when Natural Fruit sought an adjournment to consider withdrawing the case. Today, Natural Fruit made a statement to the Court stating that it was withdrawing the complaint because it accepted the decision of the Supreme Court in the related criminal case.
Finnwatch report’s findings, which have been ruled by the Supreme Court to have been in the public interest, alleged serious labour rights violations in Natural Fruit’s operations.
“Today’s withdrawal of the civil defamation case filed by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall is the only logical course of action. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Hall was not guilty as charged on the same facts as this case,” said Sonja Finér, executive director of Finnwatch.
‘‘Eight years of judicial harassment against Hall have been a poignant reminder of how Thailand’s courts are being used by powerful businesses in an attempt to silence activists and journalists. There is an urgent need for Thailand to reform its defamation laws and step up human rights protections,” added Finér.
Today’s announcement comes just one day after Thailand’s Supreme Court adjourned its ruling on Hall’s 2018 conviction on separate civil defamation charges, brought against him by Natural Fruit in 2013. The adjournment means a ruling on whether Hall has to pay 10 million baht (approximately 270 000 euros) in damages to Natural Fruit is now scheduled for 23rd December 2020.
The charges in this remaining case relate to an interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera English in Myanmar in 2013. According to Natural Fruit, during the interview Hall intentionally harmed the reputation of the company. The Prakanong Court of first instance first dismissed the case in 2016 but was ordered to reopen the case upon appeal by the plaintiff. The Prakanong Court then went on to convict Hall to pay 10 million baht in damages following a 2018 trial, and the Appeals Court upheld the verdict in 2019.
Altogether Natural Fruit has initiated four separate criminal and civil proceedings against Hall, and the Supreme Court has cleared him of two cases, both on criminal charges. Hall left Thailand after 12 years of working in the country in 2016, making clear his intention not to return to live permanently in the country unless judicial harassment against him ceased. He continues to work on migrant workers rights across Asia.
After Natural Fruit’s announcement today, Hall commented:
“I welcome today’s developments. But after years of ongoing judicial harassment that has taken a heavy toll on me, my family and my colleagues, this withdrawal of one case against me is not a victory. My activism for over a decade in Thailand was intended only to promote and uphold the fundamental rights of millions of migrant workers in the country. These workers continue to find themselves without a voice in high risk situations of forced labour and subject to systemic human and labour rights violations in global supply chains.’’
‘‘I never intended to harm any legitimate business interests through my work and remain genuinely open to reconciliation with all those who may feel aggrieved by my campaigning style, to put an end once and for all to this continued irrational cycle of litigation against me and my colleagues.”
In addition to today’s welcome developments, yesterday Thailand’s Appeals Court also dismissed a two-year criminal defamation jail sentence imposed at first instance in 2019 against Thai journalist Suchanee Cloitre. She was charged over a Twitter post about labour abuse of migrant workers on a poultry farm then supplying poultry giant Betagro.
The poultry farm Thammakaset has since 2016 filed dozens of criminal and civil court cases against migrant workers, journalists and human rights defenders, including Andy Hall.
For more information and the latest status updates on the other cases filed by Natural Fruit Co Ltd against Andy Hall, and counter prosecutions filed by Andy Hall against the company, see Q&A: Criminal and Civil Prosecutions – Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall, last updated on 28.10.2020