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15 Mär 2018

Natural Fruit Company lawsuits (re defamation suits against Andy Hall, Thailand)

In February 2013, Natural Fruit Company (“Natural Fruit”) filed the first of several lawsuits against migrant rights activist Andy Hall, alleging criminal and civil defamation, as well as violation of Thailand’s computer crimes laws.  Natural Fruit’s allegations are based on Mr. Hall’s contribution to a Finnwatch report titled “Cheap has a High Price”.  This report claimed that a variety of Natural Fruit’s employment practices violated the human rights of its workers, including confiscating workers’ passports and identity papers, paying wages below the legal minimum wage, requiring employees to work excessive hours without adequate pay and physical abuse from superiors.  Natural Fruit rejected Finnwatch’s findings, and claimed it suffered reputational harm in Thailand and abroad.  In July 2013, Natural Fruit filed another set of criminal and civil lawsuits against Mr. Hall for allegedly defaming the company during an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera in June 2013 while in Myanmar.  Natural Fruit acted as a joint prosecutor in the criminal case against Mr. Hall.

Al-Jazeera Interview Criminal and Civil Defamation Claim

In October 2014, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed the criminal defamation charge related to the Al-Jazeera interview against Mr. Hall.  In January 2015, Natural Fruit and the Office of the Attorney General appealed this decision.  In September 2015, the Appeals Court affirmed the dismissal.  In January 2016, both the Office of the Attorney General and Natural Fruit appealed the decision to the Thai Supreme Court.  The dismissal was affirmed by the Thai Supreme Court in November 2016, upholding the lower court’s findings that the proper investigation procedure had not been followed and that Thai courts did not have jurisdiction because the alleged defamation took place in Myanmar.

In November 2016, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed the civil defamation lawsuit arguing that it lacked jurisdiction.  Natural Fruit appealed the decision, and in August 2017 the Appeals Court reversed the decision and ordered the Phra Khanong Provincial Court to proceed with the trial.  On 26 March 2018, the court ruled against Andy Hall ordering him to pay THB 10 million (USD 321,000) in damages to Natural Fruit Company.  On 6 September 2018, Andy Hall appealed against the decision.  On 22 May 2019, Bangkok’s Prakanong Court rejected the appeal and upheld the 10 million baht (USD 313,000) judgment. In June 2020, the Thai Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision and found Andy Hall not guilty and that he should not pay 10 million baht compensation to Natural Fruit. The Court said that Andy Hall " acted honestly and criticised with fairness...The defendant's interview with the media about the plaintiff's employment practices does not warrant compensation."

Finnwatch Report Criminal Defamation and Computer Crimes Claims

In August 2015, the Bangkok South Criminal Court accepted the charges and began the trial against Mr. Hall for the February 2013 criminal defamation and computer crimes lawsuits related to his involvement in the Finnwatch report.  Mr. Hall faced a maximum of seven years imprisonment.  In January 2016, Mr. Hall was indicted and pled not guilty.  In September 2016, the Bangkok South Criminal Court issued a guilty verdict, and sentenced Mr. Hall to four years in prison and a fine of 200,000 baht (approximately USD 6000).  The sentence was subsequently reduced to three-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 150,000 baht, (approximately USD 4700) which was paid for by the Thai Union Group, Thai Tuna Industry Association, and Finnwatch.  Natural Fruit appealed this verdict in December 2016 demanding Mr. Hall’s immediate custody, which raises the issue of enforcement of Thai Court orders while Mr Hall no longer resides in Thailand.  On 24 April 2018, the South Criminal Court of Bangkok issued an arrest warrant for Andy Hall ordering him to hear the Appeal Court’s verdict on 31 May 2018. On 31 May 2018, the Appeal Court dismissed the criminal defamation charges against Mr. Hall, accepting that the Finnwatch report contained information that should be made public. The computer crimes lawsuits were also dismissed. In June 2020, Thailand’s Supreme Court acquitted migrant rights activist Andy Hall on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes.

After the verdict, Natural Fruit announced it was filing a $9.6 million civil defamation case against Mr. Hall. Shortly before the first trial hearing, the company announced it had dropped the case.

Mr. Hall’s Counter-Lawsuits

In May 2017, Mr. Hall filed a counter-lawsuit against nine state prosecutors and a police official for wrongful and malicious conduct, claiming their investigation during the defamation case connected to the Al-Jazeera interview violated Thai law.  On 19 October 2017, the Criminal Court for Corruption and Miscounduct Cases dismissed the lawsuit.  In July 2018, the Appeals Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases upheld the October 2017 decision dismissing Andy Hall's counterclaim.  His lawyers are preparing an appeal against the dismissal to the Supreme Court of Thailand.

Mr. Hall also filed a counter-suit against three Natural Fruit executives and an attorney employed by Natural Fruit, for allegedly filing a false criminal defamation claim related to the Al-Jazeera interview.  On October 25, 2017, the Phra Khanong Provincial Court indicted two of the Natural Fruit executives, and dismissed the charges for the other defendants.  The trial is expected to be heard in March 2018.

UN Press Release

In May 2018 a group of UN human rights experts issued a statement criticising the use of defamation legislation in Thailand to silence Andy Hall and others who report human rights abuses by businesses. The experts say the case against him is an example of increasingly used Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). They called for the Thai government to review its civil and criminal laws to prevent misuse of defamation legislation by companies.

News Articles

-Activist Andy Hall cleared in pineapple defamation case, Bangkok Post, 11 May 2021

- “British Rights Activist Sues Thai Authorities”, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Reuters 31 May 2017
- “Thailand Court Clears U.K. Labor Activist of Defaming Fruit Company”, Mike Ives, The New York Times, 3 Nov 2016
- “Human Rights in Thailand: Andy Hall’s Legal Battle to Defend Migrant Workers”, Naomi Larsson, The Guardian, 22 Jan 2016

UN Letter to Thai Government and Thai Government’s Response
- “Response of the Thai Government”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, 19 Jan 2017
- “UN Inquiry into Andy Hall’s Thai Litigation and the Alleged Human Rights Abuses”, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 16 Nov 2016

NGO Statements

- "Appeals Court orders Andy Hall to pay 10 million baht in damages to Natural Fruit", Finnwatch, 22 May 2019
- "Thai appeals court throws out case against British rights activist", The Argus, 31 May 2018
- "Thailand: UN experts condemn use of defamation laws to silence human rights defender Andy Hall", UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, 17 May 2018
- "Thai court orders immediate issuance of arrest warrant for Andy Hall", Finnwatch, 24 Apr 2018
- “Q&A: Criminal and Civil Prosecutions – Natural Fruit vs. Andy Hall”, Finnwatch, 28 Aug 2017
- “Migration Activist Andy Hall to Launch Litigations Against Thai State Prosecutors, Police and Natural Fruit Company”, Finnwatch, 30 May 2017
- “Criminal & Civil Cases Against Andy Hall”, Front Line Defenders

Andrew Hall Interviews
- “Interview with Andy Hall on his Counter-Suit Against the Thai Authorities & Natural Fruit”, Interview by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 28 Jun 2017
- “Andy Hall Interview with Al Jazeera”, Interview with Wayne Hay, Al Jazeera, 24 Jun 2013

Finnwatch Report
- “Cheap Has a High Price”, Sonja Vartiala, Henri Purje, Andy Hall, Katariina Vihersalo & Anu Aukeala, Finnwatch, 21 Jan 2013

Court documents
- Appeals Court Judgement - Natural Fruit Company v Andy Hall [unofficial translation], Southern Bangkok Criminal Court, 31 May 2018