PHUKET: The Australian Government is being condemned for failing to show in-principle support for an activist whose work to expose human trafficking and poor labor conditions in Thailand has won wide praise.
For doing his job well, Briton Andy Hall now faces a law suit that could see him imprisoned and fined up to 300 million baht.
Observers in Australia say the governing Labor Party deserves to be thrown out at the national elections in September because it has forsaken the principles that led to its creation.
The principles in the Andy Hall case are blindingly clear. Here's what the Uniting Church in Australia had to say about the Australian government's lack of backbone:
THE UNITING Church in Victoria and Tasmania has called on Foreign Minister Bob Carr to raise concern with the Thai government regarding the prosecution of anti-human trafficking researcher Andy Hall who publicly spoke out about violations of Thai labor law at a fruit processing company.
The prosecutions have been lodged for publicly speaking about research he did for Finnwatch, a Finish NGO, into issues of trafficked labor and violations of Thai labour law at the Natural Fruit Company, located in Pranburi Prachuapkirikhan Province.
The research was based on interviews with workers at the factory.
Mr Hall has been charged with broadcasting false statements, under laws which could see him imprisoned. He could also face a fine of up to 300 million Baht (approximately AU$10 million).
''Australia's unwillingness to show any interest in this case is in contrast to the actions of other governments, including the US and UK, who have expressed concern at the case,'' said Isabel Thomas Dobson, Moderator of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.
''European Members of Parliament, human rights organisations and trade unions have also called for the case to be dropped. Even the Thai Food Processors' Association has come out in public support of the work done by Mr Hall to seek an end to forced and trafficked labor in those parts of Thai industry where it still exists.''
''We are deeply concerned that this action against Mr Hall will act to intimidate those who seek to raise issues of labor trafficking, forced labor and serious violations of Thai labor law,'' said Ms Thomas Dobson.
''If progress is to be made in eliminating these abuses, human rights defenders need to be able to research and expose such criminal human rights violations. This issue is of relevance to Australia, as Thailand is our ninth largest trading partner.
''Australian companies import goods from Thailand where there are risks of human trafficking and forced labor having been present in the supply chain.''
Trafficked and forced labor continue to be major problems in the fruit and vegetable processing industry and parts of the seafood industry in Thailand.
Natural Fruit had been approached a number of times by Finnwatch and Mr Hall to discuss the findings of the interviews with workers at the factory before the publication of the research, but declined all such invitations.
Australian companies have made use of Mr Hall's research in discussion with their Thai suppliers.
The Australian Labor Party had committed itself to assisting in the struggle to eradicate forced labor in the 2011 National Platform stating: Labor is strongly opposed to the incidence of forced labor and is committed to actively campaigning against forced labor and for the rights of people in situations of forced labor through international forums, multilateral and bilateral frameworks and its relationships with other countries.
Labor also commits to providing every possible support and assistance for people in situations of forced labor both in Australia and internationally.
SEPARATE to the media release, Phuketwan
has seen a lame written response from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that says, before heading in the opposite direction, that Australia is ''committed to promoting and protecting human rights internationally.''
It says Mr Hall is ''known well to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. Embassy staff have met Mr Hall and regularly attend his briefings, including his briefing on the findings of the Finnwatch report.''
However, the letter from Jeremy Kruse, Director, Thailand Philippines and Cambodia Section, concludes:
''The Australian Government is aware of the criminal and civil lawsuits against Mr Hall. We consider these private matters . . . Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Minister's attention.''