Thailand
20.08.15
Statements

Harassment against migrant and worker rights defender Mr. Andy Hall


August19th, 2015

ToPrime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha:

We, a coalition of international laborand human rights organizations, wish to express our sincere condolences aboutthe tragic bombing that took place this week in Bangkok. It was a brutal attackon a country about which we all care very deeply. We also wish to convey ourconcern about the prosecution of migrant and worker rights defender Andy Hall.The charges against Mr. Hall were brought in relation to the publishing anddissemination of a report to which Mr. Hall contributed research by a FinnishNGO called Finnwatch on conditions at Natural Fruit Factory. Natural Fruit hasinitiated two criminal defamation charges, a criminal charge under the ComputerCrimes Act and two civil defamation actions. Unfortunately, the Thai governmenteffectively endorsed the criminal proceedings against Mr. Hall when the Officeof the Attorney General joined as co-prosecutor with Natural Fruit in thecriminal cases.

For more than a year, we have called forthe unjust and abusive charges against Mr. Hall to be withdrawn. August 24thmarks 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 andwhistle-blowing activists who reveal cases of labor exploitation is hardly arecipe for effective work against human trafficking. If Thailand is seriousabout improving its record in combatting human trafficking and proving it takesits human rights obligations seriously, you should act to ensure that suchhuman rights defenders are protected against retaliation, including judicialharassment. .

We were particularly shocked and dismayedby the action of the Office of the Attorney General in January to appeal thecourt’s dismissal of the first case against Mr. Hall, which had been thrown outon October 29th, 2014 due to an unlawful interrogation. The Attorney General'ss appeal in that case, involving an interview Mr. Hall gave to Al Jazeera fromYangon, Myanmar, has no merit and should be dropped. Officials within yourgovernment have repeatedly stated to NGOs in various meetings on this matterthat the Thai government is an impartial observer, unable to interfere as thecase moves through the judicial system, but appealing this case seems punitive andunnecessary. We call on your government to withdraw its appeal before adecision is issued on September 25th, 2015.

Further prosecution of the chargesagainst Mr. Hall will damage Thailand’s international image and violateThailand’s obligations under international law. Thailand is obligated toprotect against human rights abuses by business enterprises, including cases inwhich businesses use domestic laws to intimidate human rights advocates andsuppress freedom of expression. This duty has been recognized as part ofstates’ obligations under the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand hasratified, as well as the UN GuidingPrinciples on Business and Human Rights, and has been affirmed by a numberof decisions of international human rights bodies, including the UN HumanRights Council. The ICCPR also requires Thailand to ensure freedom ofexpression and the right to a fair trial.

The criminal defamation charges broughtagainst Mr. Hall contravene the ICCPR. As emphasized by the UN SpecialRapporteur on Freedom of Expression in 2012, “criminal prosecution fordefamation inevitably becomes a mechanism of political censorship, whichcontradicts freedom of expression.” The Special Rapporteur accordingly“call[ed] on all States to repeal criminal defamation provisions allowingprosecution of authors of media content . . . .” Regardless, Thailand hascontinued to allow the criminal defamation cases against Mr. Hall to proceed.

The charges under the Computer Crimes Act also present seriousconcerns centered on the law’s overly broad and vague wording as well as itsthreat of disproportionately harsh criminal sanctions. Finally, Mr. Hall isbeing denied protection due to him as a human rights defender pursuant to theUN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders,which recognizes the legitimacy and importance of the activities of humanrights defenders, including their right to expose violations of rights, andcalls on all States, including Thailand, to ensure that human rights defenderscan carry out their human rights research and advocacy withoutfear of reprisals.

The UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights provide that Stateshave the duty to protect human rights against human rights abuses bycorporations and reaffirms that to meet this duty, States should, “a) Enforcelaws that are aimed at, or have the effect of, requiring business enterprisesto respect human rights, and periodically to assess the adequacy of such lawsand address any gaps…” Accordingly, the Thai government has the obligation toprotect against human rights violations perpetrated by business enterprisessuch as Natural Fruit. This includes preventing business enterprises frommanipulating domestic laws to intimidate, punish the lawful exercise of freedomof expression and stifle research into labor abuses in Thailand.

Thailand’s failure to uphold human rightsobligations in this case has already had very real consequences. In deciding toleave Thailand on Tier 3 of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, theU.S. Department of State noted the defamation proceedings against Mr. Hall as akey consideration, noting that “the prosecution of journalists and advocatesfor exposing traffickers . . . undermined some efforts to identify and assist traffickingvictims and apprehend traffickers.” Mr. Hall’s case has made world news as “an international and national disgrace,” and hundreds of thousandsof people from around the globe have sent messages to Natural Fruit andofficials within your government urging for the charges to be dismissed.

The best way to bring an end to thisnegative publicity and fulfill Thailand’s obligations under international lawis to ensure that Andy Hall is released from all charges stemming from hishuman rights work, and to, “cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases againstresearchers or journalists who report on human trafficking,” in accordance withrecommendations from the TIP Report. We also call on the Thai government tocomply with the ICCPR, the Declaration onHuman Rights Defenders, and the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights to ensure that criminal defamation offenses,the Computer Crimes Act, and civildefamation laws are not used to punish lawful freedom of expression.

We hope that the government of theKingdom of Thailand will protect the right to freedom of speech and not curtaillegitimate research that documents when companies mistreat workers and violatelabor laws. Moreover, we wish to see Thailand promote workers’ rights byensuring that companies are well regulated to provide safe and healthy workingconditions for workers.

Welook forward to your response.

Sincerely,

(for the complete list of all the signatory organisations see the PDF document)

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