Bangkok South Criminal Court read the verdict of Thailand’s Appeals Court ruling in favour of Andy Hall in a criminal prosecution by Natural Fruit Company Ltd which previously in 2016 saw Hall handed a suspended custodial prison sentence and fine.
The decision was read out on 31 May.
According to Andy Hall’s legal team the Appeals Court accepted all of the points made in Hall’s appeal in their entirety. The Appeals Court ruled that Hall had not acted unlawfully according to the prosecution’s accusations and promptly pronounced him acquitted of all the charges filed against him. The Court also ruled further that, based on all the evidence before it, Hall had indeed interviewed migrant workers from Natural Fruit’s factory and there was the real possibility of labour rights violations against migrant workers in the factory, as Finnwatch had alleged in a 2013 report.
Finnwatch said: In today’s landmark ruling, Thailand’s Appeals Court also importantly ruled that Finnwatch and Andy Hall’s research was in the public interest for the benefit of consumers. In addition, the Court noted importantly that given the Thai Government’s 2017 amendments to Thailand’s notorious Computer Crimes Act, the computer crimes law retrospectively could not be used to prosecute Andy Hall alongside a criminal defamation prosecution.
“The Appeals Court’s decision to acquit Andy Hall is much welcome. It is also a much-needed acknowledgement by Thailand’s justice system that Hall’s work – researching allegations of companies abuse of human rights of migrant workers – is legitimate, not a crime and in the public interest,” said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch.
Andy Hall did not attend the hearing but was represented in Court by his Thai legal defence team. The Bangkok South Criminal Court was expected to read the Appeal’s Court verdict on 24th April 2018 but the hearing was postponed as Hall was not in attendance. Instead, the Court ordered for issuance of an arrest warrant for Hall with a view to ensuring his attendance. Following this, Hall’s UK legal defence team submitted a pre-emptive submission to Interpol requesting it not respond affirmatively on human rights ground to any Thai request to arrest Hall concerning this case. Hall left Thailand at the end of 2016, making clear his intention not to return unless judicial harassment against him ceased.
According to Finnwatch , the Appeals Court decision overturns the decision by a first instance court, the Bangkok South Criminal Court, which on 20th September 2016 sentenced Andy Hall to four years' imprisonment, reduced by one year and suspended by two years and ordered him to pay a fine of 200,000 baht, reduced to 150,000 baht, following his conviction on charges of criminal defamation and Computer Crimes. The Appeals Court’s decision can be further appealed to Thailand’s Supreme Court by Natural Fruit or Andy Hall.
These private criminal proceedings against Hall were initiated by Thai pineapple company Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. in 2013. This specific prosecution relates to interviews Hall conducted with migrant workers of Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. for the Finnwatch report Cheap Has a High Price, published in 2013. Worker interviewees’ testimonies detailed allegations of violations of labour and human rights at the Natural Fruit plant in Southern Thailand.
Last month, another Thai court ordered Andy Hall to pay 10 million baht (260 000 euros) indamages to Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. following his conviction in a separate civil defamation case. Hall’s legal team is now appealing this decision after raising 12, 000 euros needed to submit the appeal. Altogether Natural Fruit has filed four criminal and civil cases against Hall since 2013 and judicial harassment against the activist seems not to have abated.
On 17th May 2018, six UN human rights experts issued a joint public statement criticising the use of defamation charges to silence Andy Hall and other human rights defenders who report on business-related human rights abuse in Thailand.