A British campaigner for migrant-worker rights in Thailand launched litigation cases Wednesday against Thai officials and a local pineapple processing company over a lawsuit that targeted him for criminal defamation.
Lawyers for labor activist Andy Hall filed a lawsuit in a Bangkok court against nine state prosecutors and a police officer alleging they had pursued criminal defamation charges against him based on false information provided by the plaintiff, the Natural Fruit Co.
Hall’s attorney also filed a separate criminal suit against three executives and a lawyer representing the firm claiming that it had filed a false complaint against Hall, a veteran labor activist championing workplace rights in Thailand for migrants from Myanmar and other countries.
“I am launching this litigation today consisting of two sets of criminal prosecutions today with a heavy heart and not out of anger or with any desire for revenge,” Hall said in a statement to the media sent from Brussels.
“It is regretful that things have reached this stage. However, it is necessary now to launch these litigations as I must defend myself against an unlawful prosecution and judicial harassment waged against me that continues unabated,” he said.
His suits stemmed from a complaint brought by Natural Fruit over an interview that Hall gave to Al Jazeera television in Myanmar about adverse workplace conditions allegedly facing Burmese migrants at the company’s factory in Thailand.
“I expect for the courts to consider the cases prosecuted according to the law and facts of the previous prosecutions which the Supreme Court found were unlawful. I hope that I would gain justice from these counter litigations given they were already ruled to be unlawful,” Hall told BenarNews via a text message on Wednesday.
Last November the activist fled Thailand, where he still faces prison time as a result of his conviction by a local court over a separate defamation complaint lodged by Natural Fruit.
In September 2016, a court sentenced Hall to a three-year term and a fine of 150,000 baht (U.S. $4,292) after convicting him of defaming Natural Fruit and violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act. The case stemmed from the online publication of a workplace survey that Hall had undertaken for an NGO based in Finland.
But in November, Thailand’s Supreme Court dismissed Natural Fruit’s lawsuit over the Al Jazeera interview, ruling that the plaintiff had no power to sue Hall over comments made in another country.
“The chief prosecutor should not have advised the attorney general to indict Andy from the beginning because the alleged defamation was done outside of Thailand,” Nakhon Chompuchart, an attorney representing the Briton, told BenarNews in a phone interview.
Somsak Toraksa, a lawyer for Natural Fruit who is among four people targeted in one of the suits brought by Hall on Wednesday, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Not ‘above Thailand’s sovereignty’
The workplace survey that led to Hall’s conviction last year was based on interviews he did with employees at a pineapple canning plant owned and operated by Natural Fruit in the southern province of Prachuap Khiri Khan. Migrants from Myanmar make up much of the factory’s 800-strong workforce.
According to the survey, which was published by Finnwatch, workers at the plant complained that Natural Fruit violated Thai labor law through paying them salaries that were below minimum wage, not giving them sick and holiday leave, and employing children, among other allegations.
On Sept. 20, after a Bangkok ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the case against Hall over the Finnwatch report, the owner of Natural Fruit told reporters, “This is proof that we … did not do that [violate labor rights].”
“The court proved that he violated my rights, and, no matter who you are, you will not stand above Thailand’s sovereignty,” Wirach Piyapornphaiboon, the firm’s proprietor and president, said then, noting that his business had lost 100 million baht (U.S. $2.8 million) in revenue as a result of negative publicity around the Finnwatch survey.