RANGOON — British migrant rights activist Andy Hall said he was briefly detained and released on bail on Wednesday during a trial hearing in Thailand. Hall is facing various defamation charges brought against him by Natural Fruit Co Ltd. after he had accused them of abusing Burmese migrant workers.
“My passport was confiscated so I can’t leave the country,” he told The Irrawaddy. “I think the case is unjust and unfair. I feel very much like my rights are being violated with my passport being confiscated, that really limits my freedom of movement.
“I was put in a cell while I am innocent; I felt it was really wrong. I was being treated like a dangerous suspect,” Hall said. “The fact that a company can persecute and harass someone like this is totally unacceptable,” he said, adding that court authorities had been uncooperative.
“They said that if I wanted a translation [of Thai court documents] they could arrange, but they would take me to Prakanong Prison for a few days while they organize it,” Hall added.
Natural Fruit has brought four charges against Hall at different courts over his claims that the company’s employees were suffering from labor rights abuses. On Wednesday, the fourth charge, criminal defamation, was accepted by the Prakanong Court. Hall pleaded not guilty.
The Thai Frozen Foods Association and Thai Tuna Industry Association provided his bail out of support for Hall’s work as a human rights defender and migration expert.
Hall co-authored a report by Finnwatch last year that detailed a range of labor rights abuses faced by migrant laborers, mostly Burmese, employed by Natural Fruit Co Ltd at its Vita Food Factory in Kanchanaburi Province, which sells pineapple concentrate to Finnish supermarkets. He also spoke out in the media against the abuses.
For a decade, Hall has been researching and speaking out against abuses against the millions of Burmese and Cambodian migrant laborers providing cheap labor in Thailand, many of whom are vulnerable because they lack proper identification papers and employment permits.
Asked how long the trials initiated by Natural Fruit company might last, Hall said, “[The process] can take many years… There are many, many cases against me; it might take up to five or ten years.”
If found guilty on the various civil and criminal charges brought against him, Hall could face a maximum of seven years in prison, while Natural Fruit is also claiming US $10 million in damages.