Citing mounting legal threats against him, a British campaigner for migrant-worker rights in Thailand said Monday he had fled the country where he faced jail time over a complaint brought by a pineapple processing company.
Andy Hall, who spent 11 years in Thailand campaigning for the rights of migrants from Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries, boarded a flight from Bangkok to Paris after midnight on Sunday and later confirmed his arrival in the French capital to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Hall left Thailand just four days after the Thai Supreme Court dismissed a criminal defamation case brought by the Natural Fruit Co., ruling that the plaintiff lacked jurisdictional power to prosecute him over comments that he had made in another country. However, Hall still faced a three-year jail sentence following his conviction in September in a separate defamation case filed by the same Thai company.
“My goal has always been to improve living and working conditions of millions of exploited migrant workers in Thailand and ensure these workers access fully labor rights and other rights they are entitled under Thai law,” Hall said in a statement posted on his Facebook page and Twitter on Monday, in which he detailed his reasons for leaving Thailand.
“However, in the end, the situation has not worked out as I planned or hoped. This work has entailed many personal challenges. I have in particular encountered insurmountable challenges with some companies and establishments,” he added.
On Monday it was unclear what would happen with his standing conviction. Hall did not say whether he would return to Thailand, but he did say that he had given his head lawyer “all authority to act on my behalf in these matters and during my absence from Thailand. ...”
Hall cited a new legal case being mounted against him by the owner of a chicken farm in Lopburi province, where Hall had been working with the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) – an NGO that provides legal aid and translation services to migrants from Myanmar – to investigate allegations of workplace abuses.
“This case is now resulting in additional criminal prosecutions and threats of even more extensive litigation in Thailand’s Courts of Justice. When taken together, this ongoing, costly and extensive litigation on migrant labor issues creates challenges that critically prevent in many ways enhancement of migrant worker rights in Thailand,” Hall said in his statement.
Chanchai Permpol, the owner of Thammakaset Farm, which supplies chickens to Betagro Group, one of Thailand’s giant poultry exporters, confirmed that Hall was among a group of rights activists whom he was suing over the allegations, which he denied.
“I sued whoever told the lie that caused damage to my business, including all in MWRN and so on,” Chanchai told BenarNews on Monday.
The owner of the farm in Lopburi, which is about 160 km (100 miles) north of Bangkok, said two of his employees, in testifying before a labor court, “admitted there was no such thing as torture and slavery” at his farm.
“I called on him [Andy] to come back and stand trial. If you lie, you lose. If I am guilty, I lose,” Chanchai said in a phone interview.
Commenting from France on the lawsuit brought by Thammakaset Farm, Hall told BenarNews, “What myself, colleagues and others have said is that the workers were victims of forced labor and hence ‘modern-day’ slavery.”
The case against Hall that was dismissed on Nov. 3 stemmed from comments he made during an interview in Myanmar with the al-Jazeera television network three years ago.
But in September, the Bangkok South Criminal Court sentenced the Briton to prison and fined him 150,000 baht (U.S. $4,292), after finding him guilty of defaming the Natural Fruit Co. and violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.
The court handed him a four-year sentence, but reduced it to three years and stipulated that he could begin serving the sentence in two years.
The company had sued Hall for defamation over the online publication of a survey about workplace conditions, in which he interviewed workers – most of whom are from Myanmar – at the pineapple company’s plant in southern Thailand.
Hall undertook the research for Finnwatch, and claimed he merely relayed the information collected for the Finland-based NGO that advocates global corporate responsibility. In 2013, Finnwatch posted its report on the internet based on Hall’s work.
Somsak Toraksa, a lawyer representing Natural Fruit, on Monday did not comment specifically on Hall’s exit from Thailand, but told BenarNews, “the lawyers and the court have the way to handle lawsuits in defendant’s absence.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.