Trial of British Labor Activist Opens in Thailand


2016-05-19
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thailand-myanmar-05192016.jpg Labor-rights activist Andy Hall (center) gathers with supporters outside the Bangkok South Criminal Court, May 19, 2016.
RFA

The criminal defamation trial of a British labor-rights activist who is being sued by a Thai pineapple processing plant over allegations that it exploited its mostly foreign workers, opened in Bangkok on Thursday with a company official testifying against him.

Activist Andy Hall faces seven years in prison if convicted of charges that stem from a survey he conducted among workers at a plant in southern Thailand operated by the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd., and whose 800-strong workforce is made up largely of migrants from Myanmar.

The charges against Hall, whose passport has been seized by Thai authorities, include allegations that he violated Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act in connection with the case.

Hall interviewed the workers and did research on behalf of Finnwatch, an NGO based in Finland that advocates global corporate responsibility, and which published a report in 2013 based on his work.

“[Andy] disseminated false information on the Finnwatch website so that customers don’t order our products,” Kachin Komneyawanich, Natural Fruit’s vice president, said on the witness stand Thursday.

Kachin was the lone witness who testified for the prosecution at the Bangkok South Criminal Court.

‘I simply did my duty’

Outside the courthouse, Hall told reporters that he did not commit libel or break the computer law, saying he simply was relaying to Finnwatch information and statements he had gathered from the workers for its report.

Among their allegations, the Natural Fruit plant workers said they were deprived of reasonable wages, sick and holiday leave, and that their employer had confiscated their passports and was employing child-workers.

“I have just said what the workers told me,” Hall said Thursday. “I researched the conditions in that factory; Finnwatch then prepared the report and published the report and put it on the internet.”

“So firstly, it is not my report. Secondly, I did not put it on the Internet,” he said, adding, “[T]he main thing is I simply did my duty as a researcher to report the conditions that the workers face. That’s what I have been doing in Thailand for over a decade.”

The case is the most serious of four separate lawsuits filed against the activist by Natural Fruit three years ago, but a Thai appeals court dismissed one of the cases in September 2015, according to Finnwatch.

The second of three days of prosecutorial testimony will follow on May 26, and witnesses for the defense are to testify over eight days spread between June and July, the Finnish NGO and other sources said.

Migrant workers who used to work at the pineapple canning plant are expected to testify for the defense, along with union figures, lawyers and leaders of Thai export companies who were featured in Finnwatch’s report, which was titled “Cheap Has a High Price.”

The NGO’s executive director, Sonja Vartiala, plans to travel to Bangkok to testify on Hall’s behalf.

“Andy Hall’s work in defense of migrant worker rights in Thailand is internationally recognized. 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,” Vartiala said in a statement issued last week.

Reported by RFA.

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