A Thai appeals court has quashed criminal defamation charges against British labour rights activist, Andy Hall, who was sued by a fruit packaging company after alleged human rights violations at its factory.
Ahead of today’s successful appeal, Mr Hall, from Spalding in Lincolnshire, had been facing three years in jail and a £3,500 fine, after being convicted in September 2016. His sentence had been suspended for two years.
At time of his conviction, Mr Hall had spoken to the Telegraph about his "complete shock" and the chilling effect it could have on other human rights workers operating in Thailand.
His protracted legal battle began in 2013 after he did research for a report for Finnish consumer organisation Finnwatch that alleged abuses against Burmese workers at Natural Fruit’s pineapple canning operation. The workers claimed the company had broken labour regulations.
Sunya Joongdee, a lawyer working for Mr Hall, said that Thursday’s ruling had dismissed the criminal defamation case, which also resulted in the collapse of a computer crime case relating to information that had allegedly been uploaded online.
He said the court had accepted that Mr Hall’s interviews with migrant workers revealed information that should be made public.
The court’s decision can be further appealed at Thailand’s Supreme Court by Natural Fruit or Andy Hall.
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Celebrations at our victory in Thailand and Finland right now, whatever the ongoing challenges on this long road ahead that will hopefully lead to some kind of reconciliation and settlement. Meanwhile I am in intense meeting here in Nepal and a very busy work day @Finnwatch1 pic.twitter.com/MAWTb5iEZ5
— Andy Hall (@Atomicalandy) May 31, 2018
“The Appeals Court’s decision to acquit Andy Hall is much welcome. It is also a much-needed acknowledgement by Thailand’s justice system that Hall’s work – researching allegations of companies abuse of human rights of migrant workers – is legitimate, not a crime and in the public interest,” said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch.
Mr Hall was not immediately available for comment and did not attend the hearing. The activist, who was represented in court by his Thai legal defence team, left Thailand at the end of 2016.
On his Twitter account, he posted pictures of his colleagues in Thailand and Finland celebrating the legal victory, adding: “whatever the ongoing challenges on this long road ahead that will hopefully lead to some kind of reconciliation and settlement.”
He revealed that he was busy at work in an “intense meeting” in Nepal.
Earlier in the day, Mr Hall said that he did not feel anger towards his accusers or those who had attacked him for his work.
“But I felt with regret their anger & pain. The judicial harassment against me has harmed so many people & damaged Thailand’s reputation. Today I hope reconciliation is still a possibility,” he tweeted.
The only thing could think of right now to say is I had surely lost hope before today, started to move away, but now a flame was reignited in my heart that hoped there is still the possibility that today’s verdict could lead in some way to peace and reconciliation @Finnwatch1 pic.twitter.com/Wp3TEwz29P
— Andy Hall (@Atomicalandy) May 31, 2018
Human rights group, Amnesty International, called the verdict a victory for justice.
“This successful appeal is very welcome, and it underlines how the original conviction against Andy Hall was an abuse of justice that should never have been allowed,” said Katherine Gerson, the group’s campaigner on Thailand.
“Unless followed by legislative and policy changes, however, this decision will do little to compensate for a system that allows for the targeting of human rights defenders who dare to stand up against companies involved in abusive practices,” she added.
Ms Gerson called for the Thai government to “repeal all criminal defamation laws” and take measures to protect migrant workers’ rights and the freedom of expression of those who defend them.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, accused Natural Fruit of using a "spurious lawsuit" to inflict maximum pain on Mr Hall for questioning their work practices.
"Justice has been a long time coming for Andy Hall, but his acquittal was worth the wait," he said. "The Thai government should speak out publicly and tell Natural Fruit and other companies that they don’t countenance these kind of harassment tactics targeting researchers who are investigating rights abuses in export supply chains."