CULTURE OF CORRUPTION : British campaigner indicted in Thailand over report which alleged abuses at fruit juice business
Andy Hall could face up to seven years in a Thai jail over report which detailed allegations of serious human rights abuses at company that supplied pineapple juice to Europe and US
Andy Hall arrives at the southern criminal court in Bangkok Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
By Philip Sherwell, Bangkok
7:39AM BST 24 Aug 2015
A British human rights activist has been indicted in Thailand on charges that could carry a seven-year jail term over allegations of serious abuse of workers at a major Thai pineapple business.
Andy Hall, 35, has been charged with criminal defamation and computer crime over a report that alleged serious abuse of Burmese migrant workers at Natural Fruit, a pineapple processing plant that supplied juice to European and US markets.
In a written ruling, judges at Southern Bangkok Criminal Court on Monday said that they would accept the case brought by Thai prosecutors after earlier preliminary hearings.
Mr Hall, who comes from Lincolnshire but has lived in Thailand for 10 years, was ordered to report back to court on October 19, when he will be arraigned and detained while he meets bail requirements.
Dozens of leading international human rights groups and labour organisations, including the Trades Union Congress, had signed a petition urging the court not to take up the case.
“These charges are ridiculous,” Mr Hall told The Telegraph after the ruling.
“I did not even write the report so how can they charge me with computer crimes?
“The case is unjust and unfair and I’m fighting it for myself and also for Thai campaigners who face the same sort of legal harassment. The computer crime act is being widely abused in Thailand.
“The situation of migrant rights in Thailand continues to be deplorable. Systematic abuse and lack of rule of law pervade protection systems," he said.
Mr Hall, an adviser with the Migrant Workers Rights Network, has been targeted in series of civil and criminal cases since the report was published in 2013 in a legal saga that he said was distressing his family in Britain.
But he insisted that he remained hopeful that he would be cleared of offences that could carry up to a maximum seven-year jail term in total – five years for computer crimes and two years consecutively for criminal defamation.
Mr Hall interviewed Burmese migrant workers at the plant as a researcher for a report conducted by Finnwatch, a Finnish monitoring group, into Thai fruit and fishing businesses that supplied the European market.
The 2013 report, which he did not write, alleged there were serious human rights violations of the workforce, including under age labourers and grim working conditions. Natural Fruit has denied the allegations.
“To equate someone's reputation with another person's liberty is always disproportionate. Thailand should abolish its criminal defamation laws as they infringe on freedom of expression,” said Sonja Vartiala, the executive director of Finnwatch.
“At this point, the prospects for Andy Hall to receive a fair trial are looking grim.”
Observers from the British embassy, the EU delegation and legal rights groups attended Monday’s hearing, the latest stage in a legal battle that has become an international cause célèbre.
Natural Fruit is also pursuing two civil defamation cases against Mr Hall, alleging that it has lost foreign business because of the report.
“They’re welcome to go after me, that’s their right,” he said.
“I’ve been working on migrant workers issues here for 10 years and haven’t got any money anyway.”
Mr Hall is a well-known figure in Thailand for his work on behalf of Burmese and Cambodian migrant workers and has made some powerful enemies in Thai business and political circles.