New court hearing starts today for human rights defender

FAMILY FIGHT: Andy pictured last month with his mum and dad, Pat and Des, who joined the Thai embassy protest in London yesterday.
FAMILY FIGHT: Andy pictured last month with his mum and dad, Pat and Des, who joined the Thai embassy protest in London yesterday.
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Spalding human rights defender Andy Hall is back in a Thailand court today (Thursday) after winning a landmark legal victory.

Yesterday his supporters picketed embassies around the world in a bid to persuade the Thai Government to put an end to the legal actions against him.

Andy Hall (35) co-wrote a report alleging abuse against migrant workers by a Thai pineapple company, Natural Fruit, and other companies – and found himself facing four lawsuits with the threat of eight years in jail and fines totalling £8million.

Yesterday The Prakanong Court in Bangkok dismissed a criminal defamation case against Andy.

As Andy savoured victory, supporters – including his Spalding mum and dad, Des and Pat – picketed Thai embassies.

Andy told the Spalding Guardian he deeply appreciates the “global solidarity” as supporters stood outside embassies in London, the USA, The Netherlands and Finland.

Speaking about his court victory yesterday, he said: “I’m delighted at today’s court ruling. It’s a real victory for migrant workers, labour rights, rule of law (and) freedom of expression in Thailand.”

Andy helped produce a report about abuse of migrant workers, exposing such things as unlawfully low wages and use of under-age child labour, for a Finland-based watchdog, Finnwatch.

Yesterday’s court verdict related to an interview Andy gave to Al-jazeera on allegations in the report while in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

The court decided the way Andy himself was interviewed by the authorities was incomplete – and dismissed the charge due to the unlawful interrogation process.

Although one case is now out of the way, Finnwatch says Andy faces up to seven years in jail and may be forced to pay “millions of Euros for compensation”.

Finnwatch executive director Sonja Vartiala said: “Finnwatch demands Natural Fruit now drop all the charges against Andy Hall. Instead of allowing companies to bring human rights activists to court, Thailand needs to prosecute companies like Natural Fruit, who are violating labour rights.

“Finnwatch and hundreds of other international NGO’s (non governmental organisations) regard the court proceedings against Andy Hall as judicial harassment and see that his important and successful work is being seriously hindered by these actions.”

• Today’s case is a US $10million civil defamation case at Nakhon Pathom Court.

The third hearing, involving Computer Crimes Act and criminal defamation charges, will start on November 17 at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. Dates for a fourth US $4million civil cases are not yet confirmed.

Although embroiled in three more court cases, Andy will follow up his court victory by asking the Thai justice ministry to investigate the actions of prosecutors and police officers “in bringing this unlawful action against me”.

He says: “Thailand’s law enforcement officials should be held responsible for their conduct. Thailand’s justice system should be commended.”

The human rights defender’s supporters are asking Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to end “the abusive use of Thailand’s criminal defamation law and Computer Crimes Act to silence migrant labour rights defender Andy Hall”.

A letter to the premier says “hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have sent messages to Natural Fruit and others urging for the charges to be dismissed” and “the best way to bring an end to this negative publicity is to ensure that Andy Hall is released from all charges”.

Andy returned to his parents’ Spalding home for a holiday last month and told the Spalding Guardian: “I am certain that I am going to win because I told the truth and I didn’t do anything wrong.”