British rights activist faces defamation trial in Thailand

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2016 6:17 AM

By Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court on Monday charged a British human rights activist with defaming a Thai fruit company, a case which could see him jailed for up to seven years if found guilty.

Natural Fruit, Thailand's biggest producer of canned pineapples, accused Andy Hall of defamation and computer crimes over a report published in 2013 that he helped author for Finnwatch, a Finland-based watchdog group.

The report, "Cheap Has a High Price", alleged ill-treatment of migrant workers at a factory owned by the firm. Natural Fruit denied the allegations.

The indictment means Hall will face a second trial over the report after a previous lawsuit was thrown out by a Thai court on a technicality in 2014. Natural Fruit filed four lawsuits against him, and is appealing the dismissal of the first.

Rights activists have criticized Thailand's defamation and computer crimes legislation, which they say politicians and corporations have used to muzzle critics.

Hall on Wednesday denied the charges against him.

"I only collected raw data and took no part in analyzing the data. Finnwatch officials were responsible for that," said Hall after the indictment. "They also put the report on the website, not me."

The case will begin in mid-May and is expected to conclude in late July.

Hall is on bail and has had his passport confiscated. He said on Monday he had been given permission to leave Thailand at the end of January for a week.

In the two other pending cases, Natural Fruit has demanded 400 million baht ($11 million) in compensation for damages.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Simon Webb and Nick Macfie)