British activist in ‘complete shock’ after Thailand finds him guilty of defamation over migrant worker research

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Andy Hall receives flowers from supporters as he arrives for a hearing at the Bangkok South Criminal Court CREDIT: NARONG SANGNAK/EPA

A British activist who campaigned for better rights for workers in Thailand’s fruit industry has expressed “complete shock” after being found guilty on Tuesday of defamation and computer crimes.

A court in the Thai capital, Bangkok, gave Andy Hall, from Spalding in Lincolnshire, a three-year suspended sentence and ordered him to pay a £3,300 fine.

In 2013, Hall had contributed research to a report by Finnish campaign group, Finnwatch, alleging abuses of workers’ rights.

The report, Cheap has a High Price, claimed that workers at the Natural Fruit company’s pineapple processing plant in central Thailand were being paid less than the minimum wage, working long hours, and had had their passports confiscated.

Natural Fruit, one of the world’s largest fruit exporters, denied the allegations and brought charges against Hall as he was living in Thailand.

Hall was accused of criminal defamation and computer crimes for allegedly uploading the information online. He denies all charges.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Hall said he and his legal team had been “completely shocked” by Tuesday’s verdict.

“It wasn’t my report, I didn’t put it on the internet, I didn’t write it. We respect the court’s decision but strongly disagree with every part of it,” he said, adding that his lawyers would appeal.

“We’re incredibly disappointed about the negative impact it will have on human rights activists across the country. How can you ever do research to defend workers in this type of situation?”

Finnwatch said it took full responsibility for the report.

“Andy has been made a scapegoat in order to stifle other voices that speak out legitimately in support of migrant worker rights,” said Executive Director, Sonja Vartiala.

Thailand has grown to become one of the world’s biggest food producers, but is repeatedly criticised for the treatment of migrant workers.

Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, condemned Tuesday’s ruling as “chilling” and warned that it could “create a potential crisis” for international companies whose customers demanded ethical sourcing.

“If the Thai courts and Thai companies are going to shut down independent supply chain research I think companies that care about what happens in their supply chains may have to think about sourcing goods from other countries,” he said.

“The courts may have inadvertently blown a big hole in Thai exports.”

Hall, who has just had his passport returned by the Thai authorities after it was confiscated for two years, will leave tomorrow for a European tour to discuss the verdict’s implications.

He said British supermarkets, and trade body, the Ethical Trading Initiative, had been closely following his case.

Report shared by The Daily Telegraph