A Thai court on Monday charged a British human rights activist with defaming a Thai fruit company, a case which could see him jailed for up to seven years if found guilty. Natural Fruit, Thailand’s biggest producer of canned pineapples, accused Andy Hall of defamation and computer crimes over a report (Full report) published in 2013 that he helped author for Finnwatch, a Finland-based watchdog group.
“How can they indict me for computer crimes when I didn’t even put the report on the internet?” British human rights activist Andy Hall told VICE News on Sunday.
The report, “Cheap Has a High Price”, alleged ill-treatment of migrant workers at a factory owned by the firm. Natural Fruit denied the allegations.
The indictment means Hall will face a second trial over the report after a previous lawsuit was thrown out by a Thai court on a technicality in 2014. Natural Fruit filed four lawsuits against him, and is appealing the dismissal of the first.
Rights activists have criticized Thailand’s defamation and computer crimes legislation, which they say politicians and corporations have used to muzzle critics. Hall on Wednesday denied the charges against him.
“I only collected raw data and took no part in analyzing the data. Finnwatch officials were responsible for that,” said Hall after the indictment. “They also put the report on the website, not me.”
The case will begin in mid-May and is expected to conclude in late July.
Hall is on bail and has had his passport confiscated. He said on Monday he had been given permission to leave Thailand at the end of January for a week.
In the two other pending cases, Natural Fruit has demanded 400 million baht ($11 million) in compensation for damages.
“It’s really scary how this happens in the Thai court system every day,” he told after the hearing.
According to Finnwatch Executive Director Sonja Vartiala, the report did not call on Finnish companies to stop doing business with any of the three companies, but rather to encourage them to improve conditions for their workers.
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 30 human rights defenders were victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Thailand between 2001 and 2014.