Appeals Court upholds acquittal of human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri

(BANGKOK, March 31, 2022)–Thai authorities should drop all pending criminal defamation cases and uphold the right to freedom of expression by decriminalizing defamation, said Fortify Rights today. On March 30, 2022, the Court of Appeals upheld the Criminal Court’s ruling, which previously dismissed criminal defamation charges brought by the controversial Thai chicken company Thammakaset Company Limited, ending the case against human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri.  

“Yesterday’s verdict is a right step but further steps are necessary to prevent criminal defamation cases from derailing Thailand’s human rights commitments, including its commitments on business and human rights principles,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “The work of human rights defenders is within the public’s interest; these cases are not. Thai authorities should urgently decriminalize defamation and bring an end to other cases brought against human rights defenders.”

This ruling comes more than three years after Thammakaset lodged complaints in October 2018 against former Thammakaset employee and migrant labor rights defender Nan Win and former Fortify Rights Human Rights Specialist Sutharee Wannasiri for their involvement in activities related to a Fortify Rights film on the right to free expression.

Lawsuits brought by Thammakaset are currently ongoing, including a case against former National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand and Magsaysay Award Winner Angkhana Neelapaijit and another combined case against Angkhana Neelapaijit, Fortify Rights Senior Thailand Human Rights Specialist Puttanee Kangkun, and a former Fortify Rights Communications Associate Thanaporn Saleephol. The trial of Angkhana Neelapaijit will continue on April 25, and the preliminary hearings of the combined case are scheduled for May 31 and June 17.

Section 34 of the 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. In October 2019, Thailand was the first nation in Asia to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, where it committed to protect human rights defenders and prevent judicial harassment. In January and March 2022, the Rights and Liberties Protection Department under the Ministry of Justice held a seminar to develop the 2nd phase of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, where judicial harassment remained a priority concern.

Currently, Thai Criminal Code penalizes those convicted of defamation under sections 326 and 328 with imprisonment up to two years and a fine of up to 200,000 Thai Baht (US$6,250) per count. Under international law, imprisonment is considered as disproportionate, excessive, and unnecessary punishment for acts of defamation since custodial penalties have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

“Human rights defenders should be able to conduct their work without fear of reprisal,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “It is in Thailand’s interest and the public’s interest to bring an end to criminal defamation once and for all.” 

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