Thailand’s SLAPP suits against defenders: One acquittal and one case dropped | Update

In Thailand, people who report human rights abuses are regularly subjected to criminal defamation charges. During the last week of October, 2020, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) welcomed developments in two of Thailand’s well-known cases of Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

On 27 October 2020, Thailand’s Appeal Court overturned a two-year prison sentence against labour rights journalist Suchanee (Cloitre) Rungmuanporn. The Thammasakaet Co. Ltd (Thammakaset) poultry company filed criminal defamation charges against Ms. Suchanee in March 2018 after she posted information on Twitter about Thammakaset’s labour rights violations characterizing the company’s abuses as “slave labour.”

Thailand’s Labour Court had ordered Thammakaset to provide compensation to 14 Myanmar migrant workers of approximately 1.7 million Thai Baht (approximately US$ 54,400, or CAD 72,400) for violations including payments under the minimum wage. While the Appeal Court found that the term “slave labour” was not part of the Labour Court’s verdict, it ruled that she was doing her duty as a reporter covering forced labour among migrant workers.

The appeal court’s verdict is subject to appeal by the Supreme Court. Thammakaset’s criminal defamation lawsuit against Ms. Suchanee is among 39 criminal and civil actions by Thammasaket against 22 persons who complained about labour rights violations or who conducted human rights advocacy about alleged labour rights abuses by Thammakaset.

LRWC joined the International Commission of Jurists in submitting a joint amicus brief in the April 2020 Appeal Court hearing. United Nations (UN) experts have expressed concern about Thammakaset continued judicial harassment of human rights defenders, migrant workers, journalists and academics for criticizing migrant workers labour conditions.

The day after Ms. Suchanee’s acquittal, the Natural Fruit Co. Ltd withdrew a 300 million Baht (approximately US$9.6 million civil defamation case against British human rights defender Andy Hall. Mr. Hall has been subjected to a series of criminal and civil lawsuits after contributing to a 2013 report by FinnWatch, entitled Cheap Has a High Price, outlining labour rights violations in Thailand’s seafood and fruit industry. The civil law suit was accepted for trial in July 2020, two weeks after the Supreme Court of Thailand acquitted Hall of criminal defamation charges on identical facts. However, Natural Fruit continues to subject Mr. Hall to judicial harassment. On 27 October, Thailand’s Supreme Court adjourned another law suit by Natural Fruit against Mr. Hall until 23rd December 2020.

LRWC has repeatedly recommended that Thailand decriminalize defamation. The UN Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 34, has recommended that States “consider the decriminalization of defamation,” saying that “in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.” LRWC joins Thai human rights advocates in seeking Thailand’s implementation of its human rights obligations, including the government’s immediate steps to implement Thailand’s 2019 National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which included goals of ending SLAPPs and preventing prosecution of human rights defenders.