Brit activist Hall absent as trial starts

The Southern Bangkok Criminal Court held the first hearing yesterday on fruit juice maker Natural Fruit's defamation lawsuit against researcher Andy Hall, with the defendant absent from proceedings.

The court, unable to subpoena Mr Hall through his employer, approved Natural Fruit's request to issue an order to the Immigration Bureau to provide the entry and departure records for the defendant, who is also a migrant rights activist.

Mr Hall's former employer Mahidol University had informed the Office of Foreign Workers Administration they had ended his contract and so could not deliver the subpoena to the defendant.

Finnwatch, a watchdog organisation that commissioned Mr Hall to produce the October-November 2012 study that is the subject of the lawsuit, said yesterday the lawsuit was an attack on freedom of expression.

The court then adjourned proceedings until April 11.

Natural Fruit's lawyer, Somsak Torugsa, said if Mr Hall could not be located his client might ask the court to formally advise legal authorities in the defendant's hometown in England that he was required to appear to answer a criminal defamation lawsuit.
Natural Fruit vice-president Kachin Komneyawanich said Mr Hall's reports and his communications with the public, which could be found on at least 20 websites, damaged his company and were not truthful.

Natural Fruit is owned and operated by a brother of Democrat Party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-On.

If found guilty, Mr Hall could face up to seven years in prison.

The company is also demanding 300 million baht in damages in a separate civil court lawsuit in Nakhon Pathom.

The defamation accusations are related to Mr Hall's research into labour conditions at the company, commissioned by Finnwatch, and a January press briefing on the results of that study at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.

Finnwatch said the findings were based on interviews with Natural Fruit's employees. It said the lawsuits were unfounded and were part of attempt to limit the activities of human rights defenders and freedom of expression in Thailand.

About the author

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter