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British activist and human rights defender Andy Hall

Global Demand to Drop Andy Hall Case

Friday, August 21, 2015
BANGKOK: A global coalition of 44 human rights environmental and labor organisations, including many of the world's largest global union federations, said the Thai Government is failing to meet its obligations under international human rights law and standards by participating in the prosecution of labor rights defender Andy Hall.

Mr Hall faces indictment on Monday, August 24, on criminal defamation and computer crimes related to research he conducted for the Finnish non-governmental organisation Finnwatch into egregious labor rights violations at a Thai company, Natural Fruit.

'''If Thailand is serious about addressing the alarming levels of human trafficking among its migrant worker population, it can't throw those who uncover abuses in jail,'' said Abby McGill, campaigns director at the International Labor Rights Forum.

McGill helped coordinate the letter sent this week to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. ''Criminal defamation is being used to punish those who speak out, and it's a contributing factor to the fear among migrant communities that keeps them vulnerable to traffickers.

''It's time for Thailand to demonstrate it is protecting these workers, not punishing those who speak on their behalf.''

In his research, Mr Hall uncovered unlawful working conditions including child labor, high recruitment fees, illegal salary deductions, payment below the legal minimum wage, confiscation of migrant workers' passports and work permits and physical violence.

Natural Fruit initiated two criminal defamation charges, a criminal charge under the Computer Crimes Act and two civil defamation actions against Mr Hall early last year in response to the findings, published by Finnwatch.

By joining as co-prosecutor with Natural Fruit in the criminal cases, the Thai government has effectively endorsed the criminal proceedings against Mr Hall, according to the letter.

The Thai Office of the Attorney General also chose in January to appeal a case the court had already decided in Mr Hall's favor, a decision the letter called ''punitive and unnecessary.''

The United States Department of State specifically cited Mr Hall's case in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and said the prosecution of journalists and human rights defenders undermines the ability of the government to hold human traffickers accountable for their crimes.

The letter endorses a primary recommendation of the TIP report to ''cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking.''

Thailand was given the lowest possible ranking in the report on its efforts to combat human trafficking.

The organisations that signed the letter call for the Thai government to bring its laws on criminal defamation and computer crimes into compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, as an essential step to protect freedom of speech and not curtail legitimate research that documents when companies mistreat workers and violate labor laws.

Joint Open Letter to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha:

We, a coalition of international labor and human rights organisations, wish to express our sincere condolences about the tragic bombing that took place this week in Bangkok.

It was a brutal attack on a country about which we all care very deeply. We also wish to convey our concern about the prosecution of migrant and worker rights defender Andy Hall.

The charges against Mr Hall were brought in relation to the publishing and dissemination of a report to which Mr Hall contributed research by a Finnish NGO called Finnwatch on conditions at Natural Fruit Factory.

Natural Fruit has initiated two criminal defamation charges, a criminal charge under the Computer Crimes Act and two civil defamation actions.

Unfortunately, the Thai government effectively endorsed the criminal proceedings against Mr Hall when the Office of the Attorney General joined as co-prosecutor with Natural Fruit in the criminal cases.

For more than a year, we have called for the unjust and abusive charges against Mr Hall to be withdrawn. August 24 marks a critical point when a decision will be made as to whether to indict Mr Hall on the most severe of these charges.

Persecuting researchers and whistle-blowing activists who reveal cases of labor exploitation is hardly a recipe for effective work against human trafficking.

If Thailand is serious about improving its record in combatting human trafficking and proving it takes its human rights obligations seriously, you should act to ensure that such human rights defenders are protected against retaliation, including judicial harassment.

We were particularly shocked and dismayed by the action of the Office of the Attorney General in January to appeal the court's dismissal of the first case against Mr Hall, which had been thrown out on October 29, 2014 due to an unlawful interrogation.

The Attorney General's appeal in that case, involving an interview Mr Hall gave to Al Jazeera from Yangon, Myanmar, has no merit and should be dropped.

Officials within your government have repeatedly stated to NGOs in various meetings on this matter that the Thai government is an impartial observer, unable to interfere as the case moves through the judicial system, but appealing this case seems punitive and unnecessary.

We call on your government to withdraw its appeal before a decision is issued on September 25, 2015.

Further prosecution of the charges against Mr Hall will damage Thailand's international image and violate Thailand's obligations under international law.

Thailand is obligated to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises, including cases in which businesses use domestic laws to intimidate human rights advocates and suppress freedom of expression.

This duty has been recognised as part of states' obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and has been affirmed by a number of decisions of international human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council.

The ICCPR also requires Thailand to ensure freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

The criminal defamation charges brought against Mr Hall contravene the ICCPR. As emphasised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in 2012, ''criminal prosecution for defamation inevitably becomes a mechanism of political censorship, which contradicts freedom of expression.''

The Special Rapporteur accordingly ''call[ed] on all States to repeal criminal defamation provisions allowing prosecution of authors of media content . . .

''Regardless, Thailand has continued to allow the criminal defamation cases against Mr Hall to proceed.

The charges under the Computer Crimes Act also present serious concerns centered on the law's overly broad and vague wording as well as its threat of disproportionately harsh criminal sanctions.

Finally, Mr Hall is being denied protection due to him as a human rights defender pursuant to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognizes the legitimacy and importance of the activities of human rights defenders, including their right to expose violations of rights, and calls on all States, including Thailand, to ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their human rights research and advocacy without fear of reprisals.

The UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights provide that States have the duty to protect human rights against human rights abuses by corporations and reaffirms that to meet this duty, States should, ''a) Enforce laws that are aimed at, or have the effect of, requiring business enterprises to respect human rights, and periodically to assess the adequacy of such laws and address any gaps . . .''

Accordingly, the Thai government has the obligation to protect against human rights violations perpetrated by business enterprises such as Natural Fruit.

This includes preventing business enterprises from manipulating domestic laws to intimidate, punish the lawful exercise of freedom of expression and stifle research into labor abuses in Thailand.

Thailand's failure to uphold human rights obligations in this case has already had very real consequences. In deciding to leave Thailand on Tier 3 of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, the US Department of State noted the defamation proceedings against Mr Hall as a key consideration, noting that ''the prosecution of journalists and advocates for exposing traffickers . . . undermined some efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims and apprehend traffickers.''

Mr Hall's case has made world news as ''an international and national disgrace,'' and hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe have sent messages to Natural Fruit and officials within your government urging for the charges to be dismissed.

The best way to bring an end to this negative publicity and fulfill Thailand's obligations under international law is to ensure that Andy Hall is released from all charges stemming from his human rights work, and to ''cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking,'' in accordance with recommendations from the TIP Report.

We also call on the Thai government to comply with the ICCPR, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to ensure that criminal defamation offenses, the Computer Crimes Act, and civil defamation laws are not used to punish lawful freedom of expression.

We hope that the government of the Kingdom of Thailand will protect the right to freedom of speech and not curtail legitimate research that documents when companies mistreat workers and violate labor laws.

Moreover, we wish to see Thailand promote workers' rights by ensuring that companies are well regulated to provide safe and healthy working conditions for workers.

We look forward to your response.

(signed by 44 groups)

Declaration of Interest

A VERDICT is due on September 1 in the criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act action against Phuketwan journalists Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison. The pair are being sued by the Royal Thai Navy over a 41-word paragraph republished from a Reuters series on Burma's Rohingya boatpeople. The series won a Pulitzer Prize.

The Royal Thai Navy's precedent-setting military-versus-media action predates last May's Army takeover in Thailand. Maximum penalty for Morison and Khun Chutima is seven years' jail.

The journalists remain on bail of 100,000 baht each, provided by the Andaman Community Rights and Legal Aid Centre, based in Trang province. Other groups and organisations have also offered financial help.

Most of the legal costs of the case are being met by the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.

In Thailand, a group of more than 10 lawyers have teamed up to provide legal counsel. They include the Human Rights Lawyers' Association, iLaw and SR Law.

WATCH Journey into Hell, by Four Corners
From Burma through Thailand, an award-winning current affairs team traces official complicity in the brutal treatment of the Rohingya and Phuketwan's part in its exposure.

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian says of traficking in 2014: ''It's worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares''.

LISTEN The Rohingya Solution
A tragedy almost beyond words has been unfolding in Thailand, where a human smuggling network is thriving with the full knowledge of some corrupt law enforcement officers. Alan Morison of Phuketwan talks to Australia's AM program.


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