A defamation charge brought against British activist Andy Hall, by Thai processing factory Natural Fruit, has been dismissed by the Prakanong Court in Bangkok. The court dismissed the charge due to the Thai police’s use of an unlawful interrogation process.
Natural Fruit launched multiple criminal and civil prosecutions against Mr Hall in 2013. The charges relate to his contribution to a report, published by Finnwatch, outlining serious human rights violations at Natural Fruit’s production facilities.
Mr Hall has previously worked with the Justice and International Mission (JIM)* unit to investigate the use of migrant labour in Thai factories to safeguard against human trafficking and forced labour.
In 2012 research revealed that Natural Fruit products are being used Australia. Despite extensive investigations by the JIM unit, the Australian buyer is yet to be identified.
“It is great news that the first case against Andy has been dismissed,” JIM unit director Dr Mark Zirnsak said.
“It would be a real blow for the movement to end human trafficking and forced labour of migrant workers in Thailand if Andy were to be imprisoned for his human rights work.”
During the trial the court heard a former Natural Fruit worker testify that the factory was hiring underage children and paid unlawfully low salaries to workers.
This latest case verdict is the first of four cases filed against Mr Hall by Natural Fruit. The second case, a US$10 million civil defamation case began on 30 October at Nakhon Pathom Court.
The third case, concerning criminal defamation charges, proceeded on 17 November at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. Dates for a fourth US$4 million civil case are yet to be confirmed.
If Mr Hall is found guilty of the additional criminal and civil cases he could face up to seven years in prison and be forced to pay millions of dollars.
Twelve Australian organisations, including three Uniting Church Synods, wrote to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, asking that the Australian Government raise Mr Hall’s case with the Thai Government.
Moderator Dan Wootton signed on behalf of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. Minister Bishop replied to say the Government had done so and the Australian Embassy sent a staff member to Mr Hall’s first trial demonstrating the Australian Government’s interest in the case.
*JIM is a unit of the Commission for Mission