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British activist cleared in Thai pineapple defamation case

British activist cleared in Thai pineapple defamation case

British labour activist Andy Hall speaks to the media on Sep 20, 2016 as he arrives at the Bangkok South Criminal Court in Bangkok, ahead of the expected verdict on a criminal case brought against Hall by the Natural Fruit Company for criminal defamation. (File photo: AFP / Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

BANGKOK: A rights activist hit with almost a decade of lawsuits after raising concerns about labour conditions at a Thai pineapple company received a court decision Tuesday (May 11) clearing him in the final case against him.

Andy Hall faced a series of defamation charges after contributing to a 2012 report on alleged poor working conditions, low wages and child labour at Natural Fruit's factory.

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

The company later launched a 300-million-baht (US$9.6 million) civil defamation case but dropped the case before it went to trial last year.

Hall was informed Tuesday of the Thai Supreme Court's verdict in the final case, over separate civil defamation charges relating to a 2013 interview he gave to the news organisation Al Jazeera.

The court ruling was made in June 2020 but coronavirus disruptions meant Hall's lawyer only received it on Tuesday.

The court found Hall not guilty and overturned a lower court's decision that he should pay 10 million baht compensation to the company.

"The Supreme Court stands by the Appeal Court's (verdict) to dismiss the plaintiff's (case) as it is factually concluded that the defendant acted honestly and criticised with fairness," the court said.

"The defendant's interview with the media about the plaintiff's employment practices does not warrant compensation."

Hall, who left Thailand in 2016 after living there for 12 years, said the decision was a relief.

"After years of ongoing judicial harassment that has taken a heavy toll on me, my family and my colleagues, this is not a victory," he said in a statement.

He said he never intended to harm any legitimate business interests through his work.

Comment has been sought from Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drinks market.

The company previously denied the allegations raised in the 2012 report.

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

Source: AFP/ic


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