Bangkok court to consider new criminal defamation complaints today

(Bangkok, December 3, 2018)— The Thai authorities and Thai-owned poultry company Thammakaset Company Limited should drop criminal and civil defamation complaints brought by the company against human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri, said Fortify Rights and 15 international, regional, and national organizations in a joint statement today.  If convicted, Nan Win faces up to four years in prison and 400,000 Thai Baht (US$12,100) in fines, and Sutharee Wannasiri faces up to six years in prison and up to 600,000 Thai Baht (US$18,150) in fines.

The Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to hold preliminary hearings on the criminal complaints today.

“These complaints are an attempt to intimidate and harass human rights defenders, and the authorities should put a stop to it,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “The company is taking aim at human rights defenders involved in exposing alleged labor rights violations.”

The complaints relate to a 107-second film produced by Fortify Rights about previous defamation complaints brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers from Myanmar. In the film, released in October 2017, three former workers described how the company brought criminal defamation charges against them after the workers reported labor-rights violations to the Thai authorities, including unlawfully low wages, failure to pay overtime wages, and confiscation of their identity documents, including passports.

Woman human rights defender Sutharee Wannasiri speaking at a Fortify Rights press conference, ©FortifyRights, Oct 2018.

The statement today calls on the company—a Thai-owned firm operating in Lopburi Province—to “also withdraw all criminal complaints and unsubstantiated civil complaints against other migrant workers and human rights defenders for their involvement in peaceful activities protected by international human rights law.” 
Thammakaset filed the most recent criminal and civil defamation complaints against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri in October 2018. Thammakaset accuses Nan Win, a former worker from Myanmar, of spreading “untruthful” information about alleged labor rights violations by the company, pointing to the Fortify Rights film in which Nan Win is featured and a Facebook-live broadcast of a public event in Bangkok.
The complaints against Sutharee Wannasiri, a woman human rights defender and a former Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights, stem from three tweets posted on her twitter page in October 2017 that linked to the Fortify Rights film.

Former Thammakaset employee Nan Win, who is now facing a criminal defamation complaint by the company for bringing attention to labor rights violations. ©Fortify Rights, 2017

Thammakaset also brought civil defamation complaints against Sutharee Wannasiri, seeking five million Thai Baht (US$151,400) in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation.

“Human rights work is not a crime,” said Amy Smith. “Sutharee Wannasiri and Nan Win are the latest victims of the judicial harassment epidemic in Thailand, and they won’t be the last unless the Thai authorities take decisive action.”

Signatories to the statement include Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurist, Amnesty International, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, FORUM-ASIA, Asia Pacific Forum for Women, Law and Development, Migrant Workers Rights Network, the Cross Cultural Foundation, the Community Resource Centre Foundation, and others.

The statement today also calls on Thailand to make defamation “exclusively a civil and non-criminal legal infraction.”

Under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party, imprisonment for defamation is inherently disproportionate and therefore can never be an appropriate sanction.

The organizations further call on the Thai authorities to enact legislation to prevent “specious legal complaints through Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits.”

“Action to end SLAPP lawsuits is in line with the promoting responsible, rights respecting business practices,” the statement reads, noting that such legislation would be consistent with the Thai government’s current efforts to develop a national action plan on business and human rights.

Fortify Rights film highlighting the case of 14 migrant workers facing criminal defamation charges for bringing attention to labor rights violations.

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