Wed, Sep 21, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Thailand court rules British activist Hall defamed company

Reuters, BANGKOK

A British rights activist was yesterday found guilty by a Thai court of criminal defamation and given a three-year suspended sentence, a move rights groups said sets a worrying precedent.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court found Andy Hall of the Migrant Worker Rights Network guilty of defaming Natural Fruit Co, a large pineapple wholesaler that supplies the EU, over a report published in 2013 that he helped author for Finnwatch, a Finland-based watchdog group.

The report alleged labor abuses at a processing plant owned by the firm and led to several companies terminating their contracts with Natural Fruit.

The court found Hall guilty of criminal defamation and computer crimes and sentenced him to four years in prison, but reduced the sentence by one year “due to his history of doing public good and his record as a rights defender,” a judge said.

The court is to suspend the sentence, the judge said, meaning Hall will be free unless he breaks the law during that period.

Thailand’s harsh defamation and cybercrime laws have drawn criticism from rights groups concerned about curbs on freedom of speech in the country.

The court said in its ruling that Hall did not interview a large enough sample size in his report for Finnwatch.

It said the investigation by state auditors found no widespread abuses at Natural Fruit and that Hall did not give the company enough time to respond before submitting the report to Finnwatch.

Natural Fruit chairman Wirat Piyapornbaiboon said he was pleased with the verdict.

“Today I have fought for my honor and the honor of Thailand,” Wirat told reporters.

Hall said the ruling would send “shockwaves in the international community.”

“I do not feel shame or regret,” Hall told reporters after the court ruling. “I am fighting for the rights of migrant workers.”

He said he was free to travel now that his trial was over.

“The verdict against Andy Hall sends a chilling effect to the human rights community in Thailand,” Thailand-based Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk told reporters.

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