87 civil society groups, businesses, parliamentarians urge Thai Prime Minister to protect freedom of expression and labor rights
(Bangkok, September 19, 2017)—The Thai Government should de-criminalize defamation and protect the rights of 14 Myanmar migrant workers and other human rights defenders being targeted with criminal defamation and related charges for bringing attention to alleged labor rights violations, Fortify Rights said today.
Fortify Rights and 86 civil society organizations, businesses, and parliamentarians today published an open letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, calling on the Thai Government to “immediately take pro-active steps” to protect freedom of expression, labor rights, and the rights of human rights defenders in Thailand.
“Businesses in Thailand are increasingly using defamation complaints to target critics and deflect attention from serious allegations of wrongdoing,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Thai authorities need to stand up for free speech and workers’ rights.”
Thammakaset Company Limited—a Thai-owned poultry company—filed a defamation complaint against the 14 workers on October 6, 2016 alleging the workers damaged the reputation of the company by submitting a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) on July 7, 2016. The Don Muang Magistrates Court in Bangkok is scheduled to consider Thammakaset Co. Ltd.’s complaint against the workers on October 4, 2017.
In the complaint to the NHRCT, the workers claimed that the company failed to pay minimum and overtime wages, forced them to work excessive hours, and confiscated their identity documents. On September 14, Thailand’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order for Thammakaset Co. Ltd. to pay a total of 1.7 million Thai baht (US$51,000) in compensation to the 14 workers for violating their rights.
Thammakaset Co. Ltd. also filed a complaint against Andy Hall, a British human rights defender, on November 4, 2016, alleging criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act 2007 (CCA) for his social media comments on the alleged labor rights abuses in relation to the 14 migrant workers. The Bangkok South Criminal Court will determine whether the complaint has sufficient merit to proceed to trial on December 15, 2017.
The open letter called on the Prime Minister’s Office to “ensure the right to freedom of expression for workers, activists and others who report on human rights and labor rights abuses allegedly committed by companies during their business operations” and de-criminalize defamation. The letter also called on the Thai Government to enforce labor protections for all workers, including migrant workers.
“General Prayut should make good on his promises to ensure businesses in Thailand uphold basic rights and protections. Enforcing labor rights and protecting the right of workers to complain would be a good start,” said Amy Smith. “It’s up to the court to see the case against these workers for what it is—frivolous.”