A Thai appeals court has quashed criminal defamation charges against activist Andy Hall, who was sued by fruit packaging company Natural Fruit after exposing human rights violations at its factory.
Hall had been facing three years in jail and a £3,500 fine after being convicted in September 2016. His legal battle has been ongoing since 2013, when Hall conducted research for Finnish NGO Finnwatch on labor abuses against Burmese workers at Natural Fruit’s pineapple canning factory.
Today’s verdict represented a remarkable reversal, with the court finding that Hall’s research on Natural Fruit revealed abuses that should be made public.
The Telegraph reports:
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.
“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.
Hall left Thailand at the end of 2016 citing judicial harassment, and he was represented in court today by his Thai legal defense team.
Following the verdict, Hall posted on Twitter, “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.”
Amnesty International celebrated the victory, but says that the Thai government must repeal all criminal defamation laws that are used to silence human rights advocates.
Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand campaigner, said that “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.”
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