Finnwatch activist faces prosecution

national June 20, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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British migrant rights activist Andy Hall was formally detained following his fight for better work conditions for migrant workers in Thailand.

The Office of the Attorney-General has decided to prosecute him according to the defamation charges filed by Natural Fruit, the employer of migrant workers interviewed by the activist. The office accepted the case on ground that Hall of Finnwatch, in his interview with al-Jazeera TV station, admitted that his report could cause damage in Thailand.
Hall pleaded not guilty to all charges. After turning himself in on Wednesday, he was released on bail. 
“Finnwatch is very disappointed about the court’s decision to accept the case. Such criminal charges are judicial harassment against a human rights defender,” the NGO’s executive director Sonja Vartiala said. 
"Hall told us he will voluntary take part in all judicial processes. He has done nothing wrong and hopes his case will shed only further light on systematic migrant rights abuses in Thailand", said Vartiala.
Hall conducted interviews with migrants from Myanmar working in the pineapple and tuna export industry to help Finnwatch compile a report entitled “Cheap Has a High Price”. The report, released in January 2013 and updated in January 2014, outlined the particularly poor labour conditions in Natural Fruit’s factory, selling pineapple concentrate to Finnish supermarkets.
Natural Fruit, located in Prachuap Khiri Khan, began a series of civil and criminal prosecutions against Andy Hall in February 2013. 
Together Natural Fruit has raised 4 charges against Hall. The initial 2 criminal charges relate to defamation by publication/propogation under the Thai Criminal Code and breach of the Computer Crimes Act, for which initial hearings have begun but the case awaits summons delivery confirmation by the Bangkok South Criminal Court. A third charge relates to civil defamation. The latest and fourth charge against Hall, Natural Fruit filed additional criminal charges against Hall at Bangna Police Station for criminal defamation.
If found guilty of criminal charges, Hall could face together seven years in prison per count. Natural Fruit are also claiming Bt300 million in damages from Hall in the civil case filed at Nakhon Pathom Civil Court. The latest charges at Bangna Police Station carry a maximum sentence of one years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding Bt20,000.
Hall’s Bt50,000 bail was provided by Thai Tuna Industry Association and Thai Frozen Foods Association. 
"Finnwatch is delighted by the decision of TFFA and TTIA to guarantee bail for Hall so as to acknowledge his important work on migrant rights protection in Thailand," said Finnwatch Executive Director Sonja Vartiala.
Chanintr Chalisarapong, president of TTIA said "TTIA and TFFA are committed in our ethical standard policy to work with responsible NGOs like Finnwatch based on good faith and transparency. We shall support and assist the Finnwatch team in Thailand being able to work independently and efficiently with the objective to enhance and improve the migrant labour conditions in the tuna and shrimp industry in Thailand."


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