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Preliminary hearings in combined criminal defamation case begin today

(BANGKOK, November 23, 2020)—Thai authorities should drop a criminal defamation case brought by Thai chicken company Thammakaset Company Limited against three women human rights defenders, said Fortify Rights today.

Today, the Bangkok South Criminal Court began its preliminary hearing into the combined case against 2019 Magsaysay Award recipient and former Thailand Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, Fortify Rights Senior Human Rights Specialist Puttanee Kangkun, and former Fortify Rights Communications Associate Thanaporn Saleephol. The trio face charges for posting human rights-related information on social media.

“Thai authorities should immediately dismiss this case and ensure human rights defenders and others are protected from similar situations of judicial harassment,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Cases like this undermine positive efforts and commitments by Thailand’s business community to uphold human rights principles.”

The case combines a total of four complaints brought by Thammakaset against the three women human rights defenders. It includes a combined total of 28 counts of criminal defamation for 28 postings or re-postings on social media, in which the women expressed support for other human rights defenders facing judicial harassment by the company.

The company alleges that the women’s social media engagements violate articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, which carries sentences of up to two years in prison and fines of up to 200,000 Thai Baht (US$6,400) per count. Angkhana Neelapaijit faces a total of two counts, Puttanee Kangkun faces 21 counts, and Thanaporn Saleephol faces five counts.

Angkana Neelapaijit also faces a separate complaint filed by Thammakaset for two other social media engagements. The Bangkok South Criminal Court concluded the preliminary hearings in this case on November 9, 2020, and the next hearings are scheduled for February 8, March 22, and March 29, 2021.        

The Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC) is providing legal representation to all three women human rights defenders. The preliminary hearings of the combined cases are currently scheduled to take place on November 23 and 30, 2020 and January 18 and 25, 2021.  

Since 2016, Thammakaset has brought at least 37 complaints against 22 human rights defenders. The courts have dismissed or ruled against the company in most of the cases. Most recently, on October 27, the Lopburi Court of Appeal overturned the Lopburi Provincial Court conviction of Voice TV journalist Suchanee Cloitre, who faced two years’ imprisonment for a tweet about alleged labor rights abuses by Thammakaset.

On March 10, 2020, a group of U.N. experts issued a communication letter to the Thai government, raising concern about “the continued judicial harassment by Thammakaset Co. Ltd. (Thammakaset), of human rights defenders, migrant workers, journalists and academics for denouncing exploitative working conditions of migrant workers at the poultry farm of this Thai company.”

The 2020 United States Trafficking in Persons Report, published in June 2020, reiterated concerns with Thailand’s criminal defamation laws, saying, “[T]he government’s criminal defamation laws continued to allow companies to pursue criminal charges against potential victims and advocates.”

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. The Thai National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights includes the protection of human rights defenders from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

In 2018, the National Legislative Assembly amended Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code, allowing courts to dismiss and forbid the refiling of a complaint by a private individual if the complaint is filed “in bad faith or with misrepresentation of facts in order to harass or take advantage of a defendant.”

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