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Thai court dismisses first defamation charge against British migrant rights activist

British rights activist Andy Hall (L) arrives at the Phra Khanong Provincial Court in Bangkok, 29 October 2014
British rights activist Andy Hall (L) arrives at the Phra Khanong Provincial Court in Bangkok, 29 October 2014

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

UPDATE from Mizzima News: Migrant activist back in Thai court for 2nd fruit firm defamation case (3 February 2015)

This article was originally published on mizzima.com on 29 October 2014.

Supporters were celebrating Wednesday morning [October 29, 2014] after a defamation charge against migrant activist Mr Andy Hall was dismissed after months of legal wrangling.

Migrant rights and other supporters rallied outside as the Prakanong Court in Bangkok dismissed a defamation charge brought against Mr Hall by Natural Fruit Company Ltd, a Thai pineapple export factory, over an interview Mr Hall conducted with the TV network, Al Jazeera.

Natural Fruit has launched multiple criminal and civil cases against the British researcher and activist since February 2013 as a result of his contribution to a Finnwatch report published in 2013. The report revealed serious human rights violations at Natural Fruit's pineapple juice production facilities, Finnwatch reports.

According to the court decision on October 29, the charge was dismissed due to unlawful interrogation process under Section 120 of the Thai criminal procedure code.

Mr Hall took to Facebook and Twitter to express his feelings on the court decision.

"I'm delighted at today's court ruling. It's a real victory for migrant workers, labour rights, rule of law, freedom of expression in Thailand," he said.

Mr Hall said that while Thailand's law enforcement officials should be held responsible for their unlawful conduct in this case, the Thai justice system should be commended.

Demonstrators assembled at venues in Finland, Netherlands, UK and the United States to support Mr Hall who has worked for many years on migrant rights issues and worked with the Migrant Worker Rights Network that looks out for the interests of Myanmar migrants working in Thailand.

"We are relieved and glad that justice has prevailed in this case," said Sonja Vartiala, the executive director of Finnwatch in a statement after the court decision, the first in a series a legal challenges leveled at Mr Hall.

During Mr Hall's trial, the court heard, for instance, a former worker of Natural Fruit who testified that the factory was hiring under aged children and paid unlawfully low salaries to its workers.

Finnwatch writes that the case verdict, concerning an interview Mr Hall gave to Al Jazeera on his criminal prosecutions, is just the first of four cases filed against Mr Hall by Natural Fruit. The second case, a US$10 million civil defamation case, will begin October 30 at Nakhon Pathom Court. The third case, computer crimes act and criminal defamation charges, will proceed on November 17 at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. Dates for a fourth US$4 million civil case have not yet been confirmed.

If Mr Hall is found guilty of the additional criminal and civil cases, he could face up to seven years in prison and be forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation, according to Finnwatch.

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