(BANGKOK, August 29, 2023)—On August 29, 2023, the Bangkok South Criminal Court acquitted three women human rights defenders, including Fortify Rights Senior Human Rights Specialist and current Director of The Fort Puttanee Kangkun and Fortify Rights’s former Communications Associate Thanaporn Saleephol, of criminal defamation charges brought by the controversial Thai poultry company Thammakaset Company Limited. This ruling comes nearly four years after Thammakaset filed criminal complaints against the women for 30 posts or re-posts on social media that contained messages of solidarity for human rights defenders facing lawsuits brought by the company.
“I welcome today’s ruling upholding our rights. But regardless of the result, the last four years have been painful for each of us. Thammakaset’s harassment consumed our time, resources, and spirits,” said Puttanee Kangkun, speaking about the decision. “Thai authorities should prevent businesses like Thammakaset from engaging in judicial harassment to attempt to silence activists who speak against injustice.”
At the request of Fortify Rights, Thailand’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) under the Ministry of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) sent representatives to observe the verdict hearing. Before the hearing, during a parliamentarian session on August 10, 2023, Chonticha Jangrew, a Member of the Parliament from the Move Forward Party (MFP), also called on the NHRCT to observe the trial after Fortify Rights met with the MP and requested support in raising the case in parliament.
Fortify Rights also observed the hearing and published a news release on August 25, 2023 advocating for Thai authorities to end the combined case. On the same day, Nikkei Asia published an op-ed authored by The Fort Director Puttanee Kangkun about her experiences facing judicial harassment for exercising her right to free speech in Thailand. Following the verdict, Fortify Rights published a news release published about the acquittal of the three women human rights defenders and called on the Thai government to urgently decriminalize defamation and protect human rights defenders from judicial harassment.
Under Thai law, the company has 30 days from the date of the verdict to appeal the decision. On August 29 and September 28, the company requested extensions to file an appeal, which the court granted.
Since 2018, Fortify Rights has brought attention to the Thammakaset cases through at least 47 publications, including 31 news releases, two joint statements, three open letters, and five short films. We have also provided regular updates on the cases to members of the diplomatic community, including the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, through at least 15 private meetings and communications. Fortify Rights has also supported human rights defenders facing charges by Thammakaset, including through at least 43 strengthening activities as well as securing for affected human rights defenders more than US$50,800 in direct emergency relief support.