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Andy Hall: a human rights defender who should never have been prosecuted

Link to full report: www.ictur.org/Pdf/Plunkett.pdf

29 October 2014: This morning British labour rights researcher Andy Hall was acquitted by the Phrakanong Provincial Court, Bangkok, when it dismissed charges of criminal defamation in relation to his work to expose labour rights violations. Regional human rights specialist and barrister Mark Plunkett of Brisbane, Australia, monitored the trial on behalf of the London-based International Centre for Trade Union Rights.

Plunkett said ‘this is a good result. Hall is clearly a human rights defender engaged in legitimate work to investigate the conditions of migrant workers. The work that Hall was engaged in should not have been the subject of a criminal prosecution. And it was no coincidence that five UN Special Rapporteurs had spoken out in support of Hall and his work’. Plunkett welcomed the fact that ‘the judges conducted the trial of Mr Hall fairly with dignity and discernment’, but he criticised the law under which the prosecution was brought, the conduct of the prosecution, and the restriction on note taking by members of the public and press.

Plunkett’s main conclusions are that:

• the judges conducted the trial of Mr Hall fairly with good grace, dignity and discernment and reached a just result by dismissing the charges against Mr Hall

• the laws which permitted the criminal prosecution of Mr Hall for criminal defamation are not fair and are in violation of international norms because Thai law makes the exercise of a fundamental right of free speech a crime punishable by imprisonment

• it is not a fair system of law that permitted Mr Hall to be charged in Thailand with a criminal offence, exposing him to harsh penal sanctions for exercising his right of free speech by giving a press interview in Burma where he did not even identify the injured party

• the Thai Courts had no jurisdiction to try Mr Hall for the acts complained of which were completed outside the jurisdictional limits of the Kingdom of Thailand

• the Thai criminal laws of defamation do not have extraterritorial reach and cannot seek to punish a person for acts committed outside of Thailand

• there was no prima facie case made out against Mr Hall because Mr Hall had not identified the Natural Fruit Company Ltd in the interview

• the laws which prohibited the making of notes by members of the public and the press at the trial are not fair because such a prohibition is in breach of the requirement of open justice

• the prosecution was not fair because of:

- the failure to make full disclosure to Mr Hall of all evidence available to the prosecution before the trial including the complete Department of Labour files for the factory

- the failure of the Thai authorities to respond to the defence subpoenas and provide critically relevant files to Mr Hall concerning the labour conditions at the factory

• Mr Hall had a complete defence to the charges and deserved to be acquitted on the merits.

Plunkett continued: “Hall is not the first human rights investigator to be placed on trial under Thailand’s criminal defamation laws”, and added that “there is an astonishing 95 percent conviction rate for those tried under these laws”. Adding to the concern for the international labour rights community, Plunkett noted: “today’s verdict does not mark the end of the matter for Hall. He now faces further, more serious, criminal charges and civil suits seeking damages running into millions of dollars”.

The International Centre for Trade Union Rights (‘ICTUR’) is a London-based international NGO, established in 1987 and accredited to the UN ECOSOC and the ILO Special List of international NGOs. ICTUR is the publisher of International Union Rights journal. ICTUR’s programme of activities includes the observation of key labour related trials around the world.

Mark Plunkett is a Brisbane-based barrister and an expert on human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. For over 32 years Mr Plunkett has practised law as a Barrister at the Private Bar throughout Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. He is a Court Accredited Mediator and Specialist Negotiator.

ICTUR expresses thanks to the international transport workers' union ITF for their contribution towards the costs of this observation.

For further information about the case against Andy Hall please see the full trial observer’s report, available online at: www.ictur.org/Pdf/Plunkett.pdf.

For more about ICTUR’s trial observer programme, please see the online guide to: www.ictur.org/Eng/Lawyers.html

For more about the Finnish NGO research programme with which Hall was involved, looking into working conditions in production facilities for Thailand’s canned fruit and fish export industries, please see: www.finnwatch.org

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