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Jul-22-2015 13:30printcomments

Thailand Must End Harassment of Researchers and Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defender reaches out to the Prime Minister of Thailand for help in correcting wrongdoings.

General Prayut Chan-o-cha
General Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand
Photo: wikipedia

(LONDON) - July 20, 2015 at 4:56am
General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Prime Minister of Thailand
Royal Thai Government
Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit
Bangkok 10300
Thailand

Your Excellency,

I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human rights defender and Freelance journalist.

I am writing to express our deep concern regarding the ongoing judicial and other harassment of human rights defenders, including journalists and researchers who report on human trafficking, or otherwise bring to light violations of labour and migrants' rights, and the lack of accountability for labour rights violations in Thailand.

A case in point is the upcoming final preliminary hearing on 20th July in a criminal defamation and computer crimes case, brought by Natural Fruit against researcher Andy Hall.

Natural Fruit filed the charges following the publication of a Finnwatch report Cheap Has a High Price1, which exposed serious human rights violations including forced labour, at the Natural Fruit pineapple processing plant in Pranburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The report findings were based on interviews with the workers at the plant.

If the court, following Monday's hearing, decides to indict him, Andy Hall will be arrested and detained pending bail. He then faces a trial, and if found guilty and convicted, up to seven years imprisonment.

This is just one of four criminal cases brought against Andy Hall following the publication of the report. One case, on criminal defamation charges, was initially abandoned by the Prakanong Court2.

Thailand's Attorney General has appealed to have the case reopened. A decision on the appeal is expected in late 2015 or early 2016. The remaining two civil defamation cases are yet to be heard.

Since the publication of Cheap Has a High Price, violations of labour rights at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant have been partially confirmed by the Ministry of Labour's own investigation.

A Natural Fruit employee, who also gave testimony to the Bangkok Prakanong Court in September 2014, told the court that he had been working at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant for years without papers and receiving wages below the minimum wage, and that unlawful deductions were made from his salary.

He testified without hesitation that the factory hired dozens of children and commissions for long hours of overtime that were not voluntary.

However, to date no one has been held responsible for the human rights violations at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant.

We are calling on the Thai government to, without further delay, bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations at the Natural Fruit Pranburi plant in a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial court of law.

Since the beginning of the first criminal case against Andy Hall, several international, independent observers, including the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational companies and four UN Special Rapporteurs, have expressed concern that the ongoing criminal cases against him are an act of retaliation for his human rights work.

As such, they may have a chilling effect on other human rights defenders and civil society activists working in Thailand and elsewhere to expose human rights violations perpetrated by non-State actors, including business enterprises.3

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all court proceedings against Andy Hall meet the international criteria for fairness. Unfortunately, the previous hearings have been marred with the prosecution's failure to make full disclosure to the defence of all evidence available to them, Thai authorities' failure to provide critically important information to the defence when requested, and witness intimidation among other issues.4

I am calling on the Thai government to guarantee that human rights defenders in Thailand, including journalists and researchers, can carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of harassment, reprisals, arbitrary detention, criminal charges and unfair trials.

This includes the abolition of the laws that allow for criminal responsibility and possible deprivation of liberty in alleged defamation cases as we consider this a disproportionate punishment and a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

As such, criminal defamation charges against Andy Hall should be immediately and unconditionally dropped.

Yours sincerely,

William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Defender & Freelance Journalist

_________________________________________
1- Finnwatch, 2013, Halvalla on hintansa (Cheap has a high price), available at: http://www.finnwatch.org/images/pdf/finnwatch_private_label_web_2_rev.pdf (in Finnish). An English language executive summary of the report is available at: http://www.finnwatch.org/images/cheap%20has%20a%20high%20price_exec%20summary_final.pdf.

2 - Finnwatch, 2014, Finnwatch researcher Andy Hall trial in Thailand: Charge is dismissed due to unlawful interrogation process, available at http://www.finnwatch.org/en/news/216-finnwatch-researcher-andy-hall-trial-inthailand:- charge-is-dismissed-due-to-unlawful-interrogation-process.

3 - For more information please see: http://burmacampaign.org.uk/media/public_-_AL_Thailand_26.04.13_4.2013.pdf.

4 - For more information please see: http://www.ictur.org/Eng/Plunkett.html

_________________________________________




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