20 May 2016
Update #2 to RAN 01/16
Migrant rights activist Andy Hall has been convicted of criminal defamation and computer crimes in connection with a report published by Finnwatch in 2013. Hall was sentenced to three-year prison term, suspended for two years, and a fine of 150,000 Baht (approx. US$4,300) on 20 May 2016. PEN International believes that the charges against Hall are directly linked to his peaceful and legitimate work as a migrant rights advocate and calls for his sentence to be overturned and his conviction to be quashed.
Please send appeals:
- Calling on the Thai authorities to quash Andy Hall’s conviction;
- Reiterating serious concern over the use of criminal defamation and computer-crime laws in Thailand to gag critical voices;
- Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression, including by decriminalising defamation and insult.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Dusit Bangkok 10300,
Fax: +66 26182358
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister
Minister of Justice
Gen. Paiboon Koomchaya
Ministry of Justice
Government Centre Building A
120 Moo 3
Chaeng Wattana Road Soi 7, Lak Si
Fax: +66 29530503
Salutation: Dear Minister
Please also send copies of your appeals to the Thai Embassy in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.
****Please contact this office if sending appeals after 20 October 2016. Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.****
PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in national or local press highlighting the case of Andy Hall and the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand.
British rights activist and blogger, Andy Hall, was charged with criminal defamation, as well as offences under the Computer Crimes Act, in 2013 after publishing a report on alleged abuses of migrant workers committed by the Natural Fruit Company Limited, a fruit processing company in Thailand.
The report, published in late 2012, by the Finnish NGO Finnwatch, in connection to a report published in 2013 entitled, Cheap has a high price: Responsibility problems relating to international private label products and food production in Thailand, focuses on production practices of juices and fruit sold in Finland, and was reportedly based on interviews with employees, many of them undocumented migrants from Myanmar, who suffered labour rights abuses, from poor working conditions to child labour. Natural Fruit has denied the allegations.
Andy Hall was the lead researcher of the report, while working as Associate Researcher at Mahidol University in Thailand, and was responsible for coordinating the field research and conducting interviews with migrant workers from Myanmar, with the help of a team of others.
In its prosecution documents, Natural Fruit cites the presence of Hall’s name alongside others on the front page of an English Executive Summary of the report as evidence of Hall’s ownership and responsibility for the report as well as alleging that he was involved in the dissemination of the report on Finnwatch’s website –allegations denied by Finnwatch, who have asserted that they are the authors of the report and that Hall has no access to their website. Finnwatch have condemned National Fruit’s choice to prosecute a private individual instead of the organisation that authored and bears responsibility for the report.
Charges were first filed against Hall in February 2013. On 18 September 2015, an appeals court dismissed one case of defamation filed against him by the Natural Fruit Company, ruling that neither the Natural Fruit Company nor state prosecutors had grounds to sue for defamation in Thailand. Natural Fruit are reported to be appealing the ruling at the Supreme Court.
At a bail hearing held on 13 January 2016, a Bangkok court imposed a travel ban upon him and confiscated Hall’s passport. He was formally indicted on 18 January 2016 on charges of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act relating to the Finnwatch report.
Hall’s trial began on 19 May 2016, where the court heard testimony of prosecution witnesses for three days. Testimony of the defence was heard in June and July. On 20 September 2016, the Bangkok South Criminal Court convicted Hall of criminal defamation and violating the Computer Crimes Act. He was initially sentenced to four-year prison term, suspended for two years, and a fine of 200,000 Baht; however, as he had cooperated with proceedings, his sentence was reduced to a three-year prison term, suspended for two years, and a fine of 150,000 Baht (approx. US$4,300). According to Hall’s Twitter feed, the court also revoked his travel ban and returned his passport. Hall is expected to appeal the ruling and apply for bail.
Two cases of civil defamation remain pending against Hall, with damages of over US$13 million being sought. As these two cases are intrinsically linked to the criminal cases, rulings are dependent on their outcomes. The cases have been put on hold until all corresponding criminal cases have been concluded.
In May 2014, Thailand underwent its 12th successful military coup d’état since 1932 following almost seven months of escalating political violence. The coup imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and granted wide-ranging executive and legislative powers to its military leaders. In the wake of the coup, tight control of the media was imposed; many television and radio stations were shut down and journalists and academics arrested. Martial law was finally revoked in March 2015.
UN human rights mechanisms including the UN, OSCE and Organisation of American States (OAS) Special Mandates on freedom of expression have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, such as those imposed in Thailand, are incompatible with international standards on free expression and have recommended that defamation and insult be fully decriminalised and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws
For further information please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: firstname.lastname@example.org