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Thai court dismisses defamation case against Finnwatch human rights researcher

Andy Hall was convicted after filing a report for Finnwatch on alleged labour rights abuses in the Thai fruit industry.

Andy Hall in court in Bangkok in 2016. Image: Narong Sangnak / EPA

Thailand’s Supreme Court has written the final chapter in the saga of corporate responsibility watchdog Finnwatch researcher Andy Hall by clearing him of charges in a years-long defamation case.

The court dismissed a four-year suspended sentence against Hall, which had been imposed in 2016 when he was found guilty of criminal defamation and computer crimes linked to a 2013 report on the local fruit processing industry, “Cheap Has a High Price”.

In addition to the suspended sentence, the Bangkok South Criminal Court also fined Hall 150,000 baht, or about 4,300 euros. Hall appealed the sentence and in 2018 an appeal court overturned the verdict of the lower court.

Finnwatch said in a statement on Tuesday that the Supreme Court had upheld the appellate court’s decision to acquit Hall of the charges, which were brought by pineapple producer Natural Fruit in 2013 after the publication of the report.

"I welcome today’s final ruling in this case. But after years of ongoing judicial harassment that has taken a heavy toll on me, my family and my colleagues, the verdict does not feel like a victory. My activism for over a decade in Thailand was intended only to promote and uphold the fundamental rights of millions of migrant workers in the country," Hall commented in the Finnwatch statement.

NGO calls for labour law reforms

The contested report alleged that workers had been subjected to labour and human rights abuses by the manufacturer of pineapple juice widely sold in Finland and other EU countries. The company eventually filed a total of four lawsuits against the rights investigator.

Following the conclusion of the case, Finnwatch called on Thailand to introduce labour rights reforms.

"Researching human rights violations is not a crime," said Finnwatch executive director Sonja Finér.

"Recent years have witnessed a surge in Thailand in criminal defamation and computer crimes charges brought against human rights defenders, activists and journalists who report on abusive company behaviour. Thailand must follow-up today’s ruling with crucial labour rights reforms and by decriminalising defamation," she added.

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