18 January 2016 – RAN 01/16
PEN International condemns a Bangkok court’s 18 January decision to indict migrant rights activist Andy Hall on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes in connection with a report published by Finnwatch in 2013. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison. His trial is due to begin on 19 May 2016. On 13 January 2016 the same Bangkok court confiscated Hall’s passport and imposed a travel ban. PEN International believes that the charges against Hall are directly linked to his peaceful and legitimate work as a migrant rights advocate and calls for all charges against him to dropped immediately and unconditionally.
Please send appeals:
- Calling for all charges against Andy Hall to be dropped as they are in direct violation of his right to freedom of expression in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party;
- Reiterating serious concern over the use of criminal defamation and computer-crime laws to gag critical voices;
- Urging the authorities to amend the Criminal Code including by decriminalising defamation and insult to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.
Leader of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Army Headquarters,
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
E-mail: prforeign [at] gmail [dot] com
Salutation: Dear General
PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in national or local press highlighting the case of Andy Hall and the situation of freedom of expression in Thailand.
British rights activist and blogger, Andy Hall, was charged with criminal defamation, as well as offences under the Computer Crimes Act, after publishing a report on alleged abuses of migrant workers committed by the Natural Fruit Company Limited, a fruit processing company in Thailand. The report, published in late 2012, by the Finnish NGO FinnWatch, in connection to a report published in 2013 entitled, Cheap has a high price: Responsibility problems relating to international private label products and food production in Thailand, focuses on production practices of juices and fruit sold in Finland, and was reportedly based on interviews with employees, many of them undocumented migrants from Myanmar, who suffered labour rights abuses, from poor working conditions to child labour. Andy Hall was the lead researcher of the report, while working as Associate Researcher at Mahidol University in Thailand. Natural Fruit has denied the allegations.
Charges were first filed against Hall in February 2013. On 18 September 2015 an appeals court dismissed one case of defamation filed against him by the Natural Fruit Company, ruling that neither the Natural Fruit Company nor state prosecutors had grounds to sue for defamation in Thailand. Three other cases of defamation remain pending against Hall. At a bail hearing held on 13 January 2016, a Bangkok court imposed a travel ban upon him and confiscated Hall’s passport. He was formally indicted on charges of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act relating to the FinnWatch report on 18 January 2016. His trial is due to begin on 19 May 2016.
The Thai monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been on the throne for six decades and is deeply revered by many Thais. Since the introduction of a constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has experienced much political instability, and alternating periods of democracy and military rule. Popularly known as the ’14 October Event’, the 14 October 1973 uprising was led by student activists. While it was initially crushed by the army, it ultimately resulted in the end of 26-year military dictatorship. In May 2014, Thailand underwent its 12th successful military coup d’etat since 1932 following almost seven months of escalating political violence. The coup imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and granted wide-ranging executive and legislative powers to its military leaders. In the wake of the coup tight control of the media was imposed; many television and radio stations were shut down and journalists and academics arrested. Martial law was finally revoked in March 2015.
UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly clarified that criminal defamation and insult laws, including lèse-majesté laws such as those imposed in Thailand are incompatible with international standards on free expression. In 2011, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue called on Thailand to reform its lèse-majesté laws. He said, “The threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”