Preliminary hearings set for Angkhana Neelapaijit and Puttanee Kangkun

(BANGKOK, February 17, 2020)—Thai authorities should drop criminal defamation cases brought by Thai poultry company Thammakaset Company Limited and enact legislation to fully protect human rights defenders from spurious lawsuits, Fortify Rights said today. After failed mediations with Thammakaset, the Bangkok South Criminal Court scheduled preliminary hearings to consider criminal defamation complaints against former Thailand Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit and Fortify Rights Senior Human Rights Specialist Puttanee Kangkun on February 24 and March 2, respectively.
Trial hearings in another criminal defamation case filed by Thammakaset against former Fortify Rights Thailand Human Rights Specialist Sutharee Wannasiri and human rights defender Nan Win are scheduled to take place from February 18 to 21 at the Bangkok Criminal Court. Human rights defender Nan Win also faces charges by Thammakaset for allegedly giving false testimony, which will go to trial at the Saraburi Provincial Court from March 11 to 13.

“We believe the purpose of these cases is to harass human rights defenders,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Thai authorities should intervene to protect human rights defenders and prevent these spurious cases from going forward.”

Thammakaset refused to participate in a mediation session with Angkhana Neelapaijit on February 12 or continue mediation discussions with Puttanee Kangkun.

Both complaints by the company against Angkhana and Puttanee relate to engagements on social media that demonstrated support for human rights defenders facing lawsuits by Thammakaset. The complaint filed against Angkhana on October 25 relates to two tweets posted on December 3, 2018 and June 28, 2019. The complaint against Puttanee relates to 14 social media engagements, including three tweets, nine retweets, and two Facebook posts, published between January 25 and August 5, 2019. 

If convicted, Angkhana faces up to four years’ imprisonment and/or 400,000 Thai Baht (more than US$13,300) in fines for alleged violations under Thailand Criminal Code sections 326 and 328. Puttanee faces up to 28 years’ imprisonment and/or 2.8 million Thai Baht (more than US$ 93,300) in fines.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, as a National Human Rights Commissioner, speaks on extrajudicial killings in Thailand at a seminar in Bangkok.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, as a National Human Rights Commissioner, speaks on extrajudicial killings in Thailand at a seminar in Bangkok, ©NHRC, 2017

Since 2016, Thammakaset has brought cases against at least 21 human rights defenders, including Mahidol University lecturer Ngamsuk Ruttanasatian who faced criminal defamation charges for sharing a Fortify Rights news release on Facebook. The Bangkok Criminal Court dismissed the case against Ngamsuk during a preliminary hearing on September 18, and the Appeal Court is currently considering an appeal filed by Thammakaset.

The 2017 Constitution of Thailand protects the right to freedom of expression as does Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a state party. However, criminal defamation threatens to have a chilling effect on free speech in Thailand. Moreover, the U.N. Human Rights Committee has held that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for defamation.

In December 2018, the National Legislative Assembly amended Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code, allowing a court to dismiss and forbid the refiling of a complaint by a private individual if the complaint is filled “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts in order to harass or take advantage of a defendant.” The Action Plan for Human Rights Defenders under the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which the Cabinet approved on October 29, 2019, also includes a provision to amend the legal structures to protect human rights defenders from judicial harassment. However, the cases brought by Thammakaset continue to proceed through the courts.

Thai authorities should immediately drop all spurious cases brought by Thammakaset and develop legislation that fully protects human rights defenders and others from judicial harassment, said Fortify Rights.

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