Natural Fruit drops case against activist Andy Hall

Natural Fruit drops case against activist Andy Hall

British migrant rights defender Andy Hall (centre) speaks to the media at the Bangkok South Criminal Court after the verdict was announced in a criminal case brought against him by Natural Fruit Company Ltd for criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act, in Bangkok, on Sept 20, 2016.
British migrant rights defender Andy Hall (centre) speaks to the media at the Bangkok South Criminal Court after the verdict was announced in a criminal case brought against him by Natural Fruit Company Ltd for criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act, in Bangkok, on Sept 20, 2016.

The pineapple company Natural Fruit on Wednesday dropped a $9.6 million civil defamation case against a British human rights activist who had alleged abuse of migrant workers in the kingdom's fruit industry.

Andy Hall has been hit with a series of lawsuits over the past eight years after contributing to a 2012 report about alleged poor working conditions, low wages and child labour at the factory in Pranburi in the lower central province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.

In 2016 he was found guilty of criminal defamation and given a suspended three-year prison sentence before the conviction was overturned in June this year.

In response the company launched a 300-million-baht civil defamation case in July.

But with the trial due to start, lawyers for the firm told the Bangkok court Wednesday it would drop the charges.

"The plaintiff intends to withdraw the case and wants the court to dismiss this case from the court system," court documents said.

Mr Hall, who left Thailand in 2016 after living there for 12 years, welcomed Wednesday's decision in a statement but said it was "not a victory".

"My activism... was intended only to promote and uphold the fundamental rights of millions of migrant workers in the country," he said, adding that workers continued to be subject to "systemic human and labour rights violations".

Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drinks market, has not commented but previously denied the allegations raised in the 2012 report.

The two parties will be back in court in December over separate civil defamation charges that relate to a 2013 interview Mr Hall gave to Al Jazeera.

A ruling is expected on whether Mr Hall will be liable to pay 10 million baht ($321,000) in damages to Natural Fruit.

Human rights groups say powerful businesses routinely bring defamation cases against activists in Thailand to silence investigations into working conditions.

Earlier this week, a court overturned a defamation conviction of journalist Suchanee Cloitre, who was sentenced to two years in prison for tweeting about alleged abuse of workers at the Thammakaset poultry farm.

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