Human rights defender sentenced to jail in Thailand

ARTICLE | 20 September 2016

Bangkok courts have found human rights defender Andy Hall guilty of criminal defamation and violation of computer crime. The ruling is a shock to efforts to address serious human rights violations faced by migrant workers in Thailand.

Violations against mainly Burmese and Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have been rife. Swedwatch’s counterpart in Finland, Finnwatch, released a report titled “Cheap has a High Price“ in 2013 which detailed the labour conditions in Thailand’s fruit industry and which was supported by research provided by the British expert on migrant workers’ rights Andy Hall, who is based in Thailand. Due to his contribution, Andy Hall was prosecuted for criminal defamation and violation of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act. On Tuesday, Bangkok courts announced a guilty verdict against Andy Hall. He was given a four-year jail term and fined 150 000 Thai baht fine, around 3 900 Euro. According to the verdict, the jail sentence was reduced to three years and suspended for two years. Andy Hall will not serve time in prison unless he breaks the terms of his probation.

– The judgement is a blow against Andy Hall, human rights defenders and freedom of expression in Thailand, said Alice Blondel, Director of Swedwatch.

As an advisor to Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), Hall’s dedication has led to increased international attention regarding the situation for migrant workers in Thailand.  MWRN contributed to Swedwatch’s report, “Trapped in the Kitchen of the World” (2015), on human rights violations committed against Burmese and Cambodian migrant workers in the Thai poultry industry that export to Sweden and other EU countries. Findings in both Swedwatch’s and Finnwatch’s reports revealed serious violations against migrant workers in industries that provide goods to international markets.

Tuesday’s ruling is likely to have consequences for others in Thailand who strive to address the serious human rights challenges that exist and continues a disturbing trend where human rights defenders are targeted, said Alice Blondel.

Over recent decades, Burmese and Cambodian nationals have to a large extent replaced Thai nationals in sectors including fishery, construction, tourism, food, and agriculture. Migrant workers are prohibited to form unions and legal support is often weak. Thai employers can therefore easily press down wages and working conditions. ID papers have been confiscated and workers often find themselves in a spiral of debt-bondage through the impositions of salary deductions and recruitment fees.

– Several hundreds of thousand tourists travel from Scandinavian countries alone to Thailand every year, Sweden also imports goods from producers sited in both Swedwatch’s and Finnwatch’s reports that are linked to violations of human rights abuses. The fact that the dire situation, once addressed, is met by stark sentences is something that importers and travellers should take very seriously, said Alice Blondel.