British rights activist Andy Hall has been charged with criminal defamation in Thailand after he researched a report that alleged labour abuses at the Natural Fruit Company, a large Thai pineapple wholesaler that supplies the EU. The Bangkok south criminal court decided on Monday to indict the migrants’ rights researcher in a case that has been condemned as an attempt to gag the messenger rather than deal with labour rights in the south-east Asian nation.
Natural Fruit has filed four cases against Hall following the publication of the report he researched for the Finnish NGO Finnwatch, released in January 2013 and titled Cheap Has a High Price. The report was based on information gathered through interviews with the workers of a Natural Fruit pineapple processing factory and exposed violence against employees, forced overtime, the use of underage labour and the confiscation of passports of Burmese migrant workers. Natural Fruit denies all allegations.
Hall told the Guardian that while he respects the court’s decision, he is disappointed and will plead not guilty. “It’s not my report. I didn’t disseminate it,” he said on the phone from the court. In Thailand, defamation can be a criminal offence. Hall was also indicted on Monday under the Computer Crimes Act, which bans online material considered a threat to national security. Separately, he is facing two civil defamation cases where Natural Fruit is asking for damages of 400,000,000 baht, around £7m.