A British activist who could face up to seven years in a Thai prison for his investigation into alleged migrant labour abuses has decried the charges as a politically motivated attempt to silence him.
Andy Hall, a migrant consultant for the EU-funded International Management Group (IMG) and an advisor to the Burmese government, faces civil and criminal lawsuits submitted against him by Thai fruit processor Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drink market.
The legal action follows a recent report Hall prepared for Finnish rights watchdog Finnwatch which accused Natural Fruit of using forced and child labour, involvement in human trafficking, unlawfully low wages and long hours.
Thailand faces a possible downgrade in the annual US Trafficking in Persons report to “Tier 3″ – on a par with countries such as Algeria, Cuba and Libya – for failing to do enough to tackle such problems.
“Politically charged criminal and civil prosecutions against me are likely part of a wider and more aggressive campaign to silence me and my colleagues, to undermine freedom of expression more generally in Thailand, and to distract me from my work to enhance protection of migrant workers and reduce their systematic exploitation,” Hall, 33, told AFP by email on Wednesday.
“Abuse against migrants remains systematic and entwined with abuse by corrupt law enforcement officials, employers and politicians themselves,” he said.
Natural Fruit has submitted a criminal suit against the activist at the Bangkok South Criminal Court on charges of defamation under the computer crime act, which lawyers said could result in up to seven years in jail on each count.
The company is also seeking $10 million through a separate civil suit, accusing him of making false statements to the media, some of which posted the allegations on their websites.
“He damaged our company’s reputation in his study of Myanmar (Burmese) migrant workers,” Natural Fruit assistant marketing director Krisna Suwannang told AFP .
Hall said he stood by his research and would not attend a court hearing scheduled for 1 April unless legally obliged to do so in order to concentrate on his work. He is also considering a counter suit against Natural Fruit.