Baselesscriminal defamation cases undercut labor rights protections
26 October 2020
We, the undersigned twelvehuman rights organizations, call on Thailand’s government to immediately endthe harassment through the judicial system of journalist Suchanee Cloitre andto take concrete steps to protect journalists and human rights defenders fromfrivolous criminal proceedings. On 27 October, the Lopburi Court of Appeal willdeliver the verdict in an appeal by Suchanee, who was convicted last year in acase initiated by Thammakaset Company Limited. The case underscores the need torepeal criminal defamation provisions in Thailand’s Criminal Code, which havefrequently been used by businesses and powerful individuals to silence theircritics.
The charges againstSuchanee stem from a tweet concerning alleged labor rights violations at achicken farm operated by Thammakaset in Lopburi Province. According to acomplaint filed by workers with the National Human Rights Commission ofThailand, the company failed to pay minimum wage or overtime, did not provideadequate rest time and holidays, and confiscated identity documents, amongother abuses. In 2016, the Lopburi Department of Labor Protection and Welfareordered Thammakaset to pay THB 1.7 million in compensation to the workers, apenalty that was later upheld by Thailand’s Supreme Court.
At the time of her tweetin 2017, Suchanee was a journalist for Voice TV and reported on theallegations. In March 2019, Thammakaset filed a criminal complaint againstSuchanee under sections 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code, concerning defamationand libel, respectively. In December 2019, the Lopburi Provincial Court Suchaneeunder both provisions and sentenced her to non-probational two years’imprisonment.
Suchaneeis only one of many individuals targeted by Thammakaset. Since 2016,Thammakaset has initiated against 22 individuals and Voice TVfor speaking out about the company’s alleged labor right violations. Among theaccused are former Thammakaset employees, labor rights activists, an academic, , and a former commissioner from theNational Human Rights Commission of Thailand.
In March2020, four United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the chairs of two UN WorkingGroups wrote to the Thai government to about the “continued judicialharassment by Thammakaset Co. Ltd (Thammakaset), of human rights defenders,migrant workers, journalists and academics for denouncing exploitative workingconditions of migrant workers”.
The Thaigovernment’s , adoptedin 2019, set combatting “strategic lawsuits against public participation”(SLAPP) and preventing prosecution of human rights defenders as majorpriorities for the government. However, the government has failed to actdecisively to achieve this objective. Earlier this month, the Thai governmentfurther undermined its commitment to ensuring a rights-respecting businessenvironment by to MitrPhol Co. Ltd, a sugar company facing a class action lawsuit over alleged humanrights abuses in Cambodia.
InDecember 2018, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly amended the CriminalProcedure Code to include ,sections 161/1 and 165/2, that could be used to dismiss criminal casesagainst those acting in the public interest. This reform was cited in theNational Action Plan as evidence of the government’s attempt to prevent SLAPPlawsuits. However, to date, judges have refused to consistently apply theseprovisions in spurious criminal cases filed by Thammakaset and other privateactors against journalists and human rights defenders.
While theproactive application by judges of sections 161/1 and 165/2 to dismiss abusivecases against human rights defenders and others acting in the public interestwould be a positive step, more far-reaching reforms are necessary.
We callon the Thai government to , including by repealing or amendingsections 326-333 of the Criminal Code and section 14 of the Computer CrimesAct. There is growing international consensus in favor of decriminalizingdefamation, as recognized in the UN Human Rights Committee’s , which emphasized that custodialsentences are never an appropriate penalty for defamation.
We alsocall on the government to take immediate steps to end frivolous criminalproceedings against journalists, human rights defenders, and whistleblowers,including those accused by Thammakaset.
1. Amnesty International
2. ARTICLE 19
3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for HumanRights (APHR)
4. Asian Forum for Human Rights anddevelopment (FORUM-ASIA)
5. Community Resource Center (CRC)
6. Civil Rights Defenders
7. Fortify Rights
8. Human Rights Lawyers Association
9. Human Rights Watch
10. InternationalFederation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
11. ThaiLawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
12. World Organisation againstTorture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders.