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Giant retail company's legal action against newspapers "harassment, pure and simple," says SEAPA

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Tesco Lotus, one of the biggest retailers in Thailand, has filed another defamation suit against a Thai columnist, following through on a trend that has got the country's journalists and media on edge.

Tesco's newest case seeks 100 million baht (approx. US$3.3 million) in damages from Ms. Nongnart Harnwilai, who writes a column for "Krungthep Turakit", a Thai-language business daily and sister publication of the English-language "The Nation". Nongnart received a copy of the charges in the second week of April 2008, though Tesco Lotus reportedly filed the civil defamation charges against her on 19 March.

This is the third defamation suit filed by Tesco Lotus in Thailand since the beginning of March. Earlier, the giant international retailer filed two staggering defamation cases against a Thai columnist and a former member of Parliament. Tesco Lotus had sued columnist/academic Kamol Kamoltrakul and former Thai National Legislative Assembly (NLA) member Jit Siratranont for 100 million baht and one billion baht (approx. US$3.3 million and US$33 million), respectively, after they also criticised and questioned the aggressive expansion strategies of Tesco Lotus in Thailand. Meanwhile, Tesco Lotus' mother company, the UK-based Tesco, earlier in April also began legal proceedings against the British newspaper "The Guardian" and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, for libel and malicious falsehood. Tesco said it was taking the action over suggestions that the company had been avoiding paying some of its taxes

The new charges against Nongnart revolve around continuing commentary about the company's expansion plans in Thailand. The columnist said that Tesco's aggressive expansion has disturbed the livelihood of local residents. She concluded her column by saying that "Tesco Lotus doesn't love Thai people." Tesco Lotus said in its charges that the column defamed its reputation in Thailand

SEAPA strongly condemns the Tesco Lotus suits as acts of intimidation against its critics and the press in general. As demonstrated by Tesco Lotus - and in recent years by other civil and criminal defamation suits filed against journalists and activists by such Thai business giants as Shin Corporation - threats to press freedom come not only from government and political figures, but also from powerful lobbies by private entities. SEAPA sees the Tesco Lotus suits as harassment, pure and simple, not only of consumer advocates and Thai civil society actors, but of journalists and commentators in general.

For further information on the Kamoltrakul and Siratranont case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91788/

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