A Thai court’s $312,500 libel verdict against a British human rights activist reporting on labour abuses in the country will have a chilling effect on others defending migrant workers, a rights group said.
UK citizen Andy Hall was found guilty of defamation in a civil suit brought by Thailand’s pineapple tinning company, Natural Fruit.
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The court in the capital Bangkok ordered the 35-year-old to pay Natural Fruit 10 million Thai baht (US$312,500) in damages, in addition to legal and court fees – a decision condemned by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday.
The US-based rights group urged the Thai government to “publicly oppose the use of retaliatory defamation cases resulting in excessive awards”.
“Massive libel damages for reporting on human rights violations will undermine desperately needed research on labour abuses in Thailand,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.
“The Thai government should recognise that the country’s reputation and economy are better served by ending the mistreatment of migrant workers and ensuring compliance with international labour standards than by embracing a legal system that hands down ridiculous damage awards.”
Monday’s ruling was one of four defamation cases filed by Natural Fruit against Hall following his research into the company.
Hall’s research found evidence of labour trafficking, child labour, violence against workers, and other abuses at its plant in the central province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.
The investigation was carried out on behalf of the Finnish NGO Finnwatch.
Following Monday’s ruling, Hall expressed his disappointment and vowed to appeal the “shocking decision”.
“This verdict is a major setback for rights and liberties of human rights defenders, migrant workers, labour/migration activists and researchers everywhere and casts a dark shadow over recent pertinent and practical positive progress the Thai government and Thai industry has made to improve migrant worker conditions,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.