Thai court overturns defamation sentence against British activist

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Bangkok, May 31 (IANS) A Thai court on Thursday acquitted a British activist, convicted of defamation in 2016 after he had reported alleged abuses against migrant workers in a fruit export firm.

The court accepted the appeal filed by the legal team of Andy Hall, who is currently abroad, and ruled that the activist’s work showed there were real possibilities of human rights abuse in the factory of the Natural Fruit company, reported Finnish non-profit Finnwatch, which had commissioned Hall’s research, reports Efe news.

“I didn’t feel anger anymore towards anyone who has prosecuted or attacked me for my work. But I felt with regret their anger and pain. The judicial harassment against me has harmed so many people and damaged Thailand’s reputation. Today I hope reconciliation is still a possibility,” Hall tweeted after the verdict.

“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,” Sonja Vartiala, Executive Director of Finnwatch, said in a statement.

The court’s decision can be appealed in the Supreme Court of Thailand.

Natural Fruit had begun a series of legal processes against Hall in 2013 after the publication of his report “Cheap Has a High Price”, which included interviews with migrant workers who reported alleged abuse of their rights in a Natural Fruit factory in southern Thailand.

The report alleged that the company, which exported to the European Union, had employed thousands of immigrants from Myanmar, including minors and confiscated their passports while paying them less than the minimum wage.

Hall had left Thailand in November 2016, two months after being convicted of criminal defamation and computer crimes and awarded a suspended three-year prison sentence as well as a $4,600 fine by a court, vowing not to return until the “judicial harassment” ended.

In March 2018, another court had ruled that Hall would have to pay 10 million baht ($312,000) in damages to the same company in a separate civil defamation suit.



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