FRUIT IMPORTER AND FINNWATCH TO TESTIFY
Lest we forget; the continuing persecution of Briton Andy Hall, who was part of a team which exposed ill-treatment of Burmese workers employed by the the Natural Fruit Company in Thailand, continues this Wednesday.
Andy Hall, helped produce and write the report ‘Cheap Has a High Price’ for Finnwatch.
This detailed worker abuse at the Natural Fruit plant in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
As he was in Thailand he was the only person the company could get under Thailand’s Computer Crime Act, which is used by the rich and famous as well as local and foreign criminals, to stifle reports about their activity.
These laws are also used by the current military controlled government to stifle dissent. Although these actions were started in a previous government Natural Fruit has been enjoying the assistance of both police and the Office of the Attorney General.
The owner of Natural Fruit is Wirat Piyapornpaiboon, who is the brother of former Labour Minister Chalermchai Sri-On and one time General Secretary of the Democratic Party.
Coming from Sweden to testify will be representatives of ‘Finnwatch’ and ‘S Group’, which up until the report was Finland’s biggest importer of Natural Fruit products.
Andy Hall faces up to seven years in prison – and he is being sued in the civil courts for US$100 million damages.
Interestingly Natural Fruit Company regard that as the damage that Andy Hall has caused, rather than the damage caused by Natural Fruit, and it seems Thailand, which suffers criticism badly.
This case could drag on for years by which time perhaps Thailand will be forced by the pressure of international bodies, to treat other country citizens, whom it regards as inferior, as equal human beings.
Trial on Criminal Defamation and Computer Crimes Charges Against British Migrants Rights Activist Andy Hall Commences 19th May in Bangkok
On 19th May 2016 at Southern Bangkok Criminal Court, British migrant rights defender Andy Hall goes on trial facing criminal defamation and computer crimes charges. Over three years since an original criminal prosecution was filed against Hall, the first three days of this criminal trial in May will hear testimony of prosecution witnesses. Defense witness testimony will be over eight days in June and July.
This criminal case with multiple charges filed is the most serious of all four cases brought by a Prachuap Khiri Khan province based pineapple processing company Natural Fruit Company Ltd. against Andy Hall. The charges were brought following publication of a Finnwatch report Cheap Has a High Price in January 2013. Whilst this case was the first and most serious to be filed against Hall back in February 2013, it is the second case to actually reach a full criminal trial in Thailand’s courts.
The criminal charges in this case carry a maximum combined penalty of seven years imprisonment in addition to potential fines. Andy Hall was indicted on these charges in January 2016 when, pending trial and following granting of temporary release on bail, his passport was confiscated and permission to leave Thailand restricted without permission from the court.
“Andy Hall’s work in defence of migrant worker rights in Thailand is internationally recognised. This campaign of judicial harassment against him has been condemned by civil society and responsible businesses all around the world. Finnwatch continue to stand by Andy Hall,” said Sonja Vartiala, Finnwatch’s executive director.
The report Cheap Has a High Price alleged labour rights violations at Natural Fruit’s processing plant in Southern Thailand as reported from interviews with migrant workers from Myanmar. The interview data was analysed, assembled and a report was published by Finnwatch whereas Andy Hall only coordinated the field research and, with a help of a team of others, conducted worker interviews for the report.
Vartiala will travel to Bangkok in July to give testimony as a defense witness at the Court. Another key defence witness will be from retail chain S Group, one of the biggest companies in Finland.
“We commend S Group’s decision to take a stand in this case. Free and independent civil society also benefits companies,” said Vartiala.
The defence shall also call as key witnesses at this trial migrant workers formally employed at Natural Fruit, leading figures from export companies also featured in Finnwatch’s reports on migrant conditions in Thailand as well as migrant rights, consumer and media activists, unionists, lawyers and researchers.
“What is the most worrying thing about this campaign of intimidation against Andy Hall is the impact it has on other people – activists, journalists, whistleblowers and victims of abuse – who may be silenced in fear because of it,” said Vartiala.
Following a September 2014 criminal trial, in October 2014 and again in September 2015, the Prakanong Court and the Appeals Court both dismissed an additional criminal defamation case filed against Hall for an interview he gave to Aljazeera English in Myanmar on collecting data for the Finnwatch research and his prosecution. The case was dismissed due to legal irregularities in the investigation processes. In January 2016, Natural Fruit together with Thailand’s Attorney General appealed this dismissal judgement to Thailand’s Supreme Court for another ruling.
Another two cases pending against Andy Hall are civil suits for damages of over USD 13 million connected to the two criminal cases. Hearings on the first of these cases was postponed in October 2014 until a final ruling on the Bangkok South Criminal case. An additional case is currently under process.
These ongoing cases have attracted widespread international attention and support. In September 2015, five United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs wrote to the Thai government for a second time expressing deep concern that the cases against Andy Hall were directly connected with his legitimate and peaceful work as a human rights defender. Hall’s case has been highlighted by the United States in its State Department Annual Trafficking in Persons Report and has garnered significant attention from the European Commission and members of the European Parliament at a time when Thailand’s record of protection of the rights of migrant workers is the focus of significant international criticism.
Several international observers are expected to attend Hall’s upcoming trial. Hearings are scheduled from 8.30am to 4.30pm at Bangkok South Criminal Court (Charoen Krung Road) during 2016 on 19th, 25th and 26th May; 2nd, 9th and 16th June; and 12th to 15th and 26th to 27th July.
A final ruling on this case is expected in September 2016.