July 19, 2015
Around 30 NGOs and trade unions are demanding Thailand to end harassment of researchers and human rights defenders in the run-up to the final preliminary hearing in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, brought by Natural Fruit against researcher and activist Andy Hall, on 20th July.
The undersigned organisations are also disappointed to learn that Thailand's Attorney General is trying to get another, already dismissed, case against Andy Hall re-opened.
– Attorney General's appeal against a case that has already been thrown out of a court has no grounds whatsoever. Thailand is continuing to harass a human rights defender despite a court decision and its obligation to uphold freedom of speech, said Finnwatch Executive Director Sonja Vartiala.
Natural Fruit has filed multiple criminal and civil cases against Andy Hall since February 2013 as a result of his contribution to a Finnwatch report published in 2013. The report revealed serious human rights violations at Natural Fruit's pineapple juice production facilities on the basis of workers' interviews. Natural Fruit refused to comment on the research findings before the publication of the report.
– The allegations against Andy Hall who interviewed workers for the report, are ridiculous. Finnwatch bears the responsibility for the publication and contents of the report, not Hall, said Vartiala.
For example the Thai Ministry of Labour has confirmed the findings of the workers' interviews in its own inadequate investigation. The findings have also been confirmed by a Natural Fruit employee who gave testimony in court. To date no one has been held responsible for the human rights violations at the Natural Fruit plant.
– Thai authorities must show that they do not turn a blind eye to illegalities. We demand the Thai government to take Natural Fruit to court for labour rights violations, said Vartiala.
Natural Fruit has brought altogether four separate cases against Andy Hall. After Monday's final preliminary hearing on the criminal defamation and computer crimes case, the court will decide whether to indict Andy Hall or not. If the court decides to indict him, Andy Hall will be arrested and detained pending bail. He then faces a trial and if found guilty and convited, up to seven years in prison.
The US State Department downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The TIP-report recommended that Thailand cease prosecuting criminal defamation cases against researchers or journalists who report on human trafficking, and recognise the valuable role of NGOs and workers' organisations in uncovering the nature and scope of human trafficking in Thailand.
– The actions of the Thai authorities go clearly against the recommendations in the US government report on human trafficking, said Vartiala.
The undersigned organisations also want to draw attention to the role of Natural Fruit in Thailand's pineapple industry. The owner of Natural Fruit is the president of one of the two pineapple industry associations in Thailand, the Thailand Pineapple Industry Association TPIA. In response to earlier calls on other TPIA members to urge Natural Fruit to drop charges against Andy Hall, TPIA issued threats of further legal action instead.
– The continuing leadership position of Natural Fruit in Thailand's pineapple industry should be a cause of concern also for all customers of other TPIA member companies. By siding with Natural Fruit, the other TPIA members have shown great disregard for human rights and freedom of expression – a worrying attitude to have as an employer in a sector rife with labour rights violations, said Vartiala.
The undersigned organisations have also written an Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand on the case. The letter is available below, and also here: Thailand_2015.07.19_Open_Letter_EN.
1. Fortify Rights
2. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
3. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
4. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association (IUF)
5. UNI Global Union
6. Walk Free Movement to end modern slavery
7. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Asia / Pacific
8. Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
9. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Cambodia
10. Equitable Cambodia
11. State Enterprises Workers' Relations Confederation (SERC), Thailand
12. Transient Workers Count Too, Singapore
13. Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
14. Burma Campaign UK, United Kingdom
15. Fairfood International, Netherlands
16. Finnish Food Workers' Union (SEL), Finland
17. Finnwatch, Finland
18. Industrial Union TEAM, Finland
19. Kepa, Finland
20. Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business, Poland
21. Service Union United (PAM), Finland
22. Trade Union Pro, Finland
23. Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL), Finland
24. Trades Union Congress (TUC), United Kingdom
25. Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy), Finland
26. Fair World Project, United States
27. International Labor Rights Forum, United States
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF THAILAND ON THE HARASSMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY FOR LABOUR RIGHTS VIOLA TIONS
General Prayut Chan-o-cha Prime Minister of Thailand Royal Thai Government Government House Pitsanulok Road, Dusit Bangkok 10300Thailand
We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern regarding the ongoing judicial and other harassment of human rights defenders, including journalists and researchers who report on human trafficking, or otherwise bring to light violations of labour and migrants' rights, and the lack of accountability for labour rights violations in Thailand.
A case in point is the upcoming final preliminary hearing on 20th July in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, brought by Natural Fruit against researcher Andy Hall. Natural Fruit filed the charges following the publication of a Finnwatch report Cheap Has a High Price1, which exposed serious human rights violations including forced labour, at the Natural Fruit pineapple processing plant in Pranburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The report findings were based on interviews with the workers at the plant.
If the court, following Monday's hearing, decides to indict him, Andy Hall will be arrested and detained pending bail. He then faces a trial, and if found guilty and convicted, up to seven years imprisonment.
This is just one of four criminal cases brought against Andy Hall following the publication of the report. One case, on criminal defamation charges, was initially abandoned by the Prakanong Court.2 Thailand's Attorney General has appealed to have the case reopened. A decision on the appeal is expected in late 2015 or early 2016. The remaining two civil defamation cases are yet to be heard.
Since the publication of Cheap Has a High Price, violations of labour rights at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant have been partially confirmed by the Ministry of Labour's own investigation. Also a Natural Fruit employee, who gave testimony to the Bangkok Prakanong Court in September 2014, told the court that he had been working at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant for years without papers and receiving wages below the minimum wage, and that unlawful deductions were made from his salary. He testified without hesitation that the factory hired dozens of children and commissions for long hours of overtime that were not voluntary.
However, to date no one has been held responsible for the human rights violations at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant. We are calling on the Thai goverment to, without further delay, bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant in a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial court of law.
Since the beginning of the first criminal case against Andy Hall, several international, independent observers, including the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational companies and four UN Special Rapporteurs, have expressed concern that the ongoing criminal cases against him are an act of retaliation for his human rights work. As such, they may have a chilling effect on other human rights defenders and civil society activists working in Thailand and elsewhere to expose human rights violations perpetrated by non-State actors, including business enterprises.3
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all court proceedings against Andy Hall meet the international criteria for fairness. Unfortunately, the previous hearings have been marred with the procecution's failure to make full disclosure to the defence of all evidence available to them, Thai authorities' failure to provide critically important information to the defence when requested, and witness intimidation among other issues.4
We are calling on the Thai government to guarantee that human rights defenders in Thailand, including journalists and researchers, can carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of harassment, reprisals, arbitrary detention, criminal charges and unfair trials.
This includes the abolition of the laws that allow for criminal responsibility and possible deprivation of liberty in alleged defamation cases as we consider this a disproportionate punishment and a violation of the right to freedom of expression. As such, criminal defamation charges against Andy Hall should be immediately and unconditionally dropped.
1 Finnwatch, 2013, Halvalla on hintansa (Cheap has a high price), available at http://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/finnwatch_private_label_web_2_rev.pdf (in Finnish). An English language executive summary of the report is available at http://www.finnwatch.org/images/cheap%20has%20a%20high %20price_exec%20summary_final.pdf.
2 Finnwatch, 2014, Finnwatch researcher Andy Hall trial in Thailand: Charge is dismissed due to unlawful interrogation process, available at http://www.finnwatch.org/en/news/216-finnwatch-researcher-andy-hall-trial-in- thailand:-charge-is-dismissed-due-to-unlawful-interrogation-process.
3 For more information please see http://burmacampaign.org.uk/media/public_-_AL_Thailand_26.04.13_4.2013.pdf
4 Fore more information please see http://www.ictur.org/Eng/Plunkett.html