Thai court schedules new trial dates in years-long campaign of judicial harassment
(Bangkok, March 14, 2023)–Thai authorities should dismiss the case brought by Thammakaset Company Limited against Angkhana Neelapaijit, Puttanee Kangkun, and Thanaporn Saleephol and protect human rights defenders from judicial harassment, said Fortify Rights today. The Bangkok South Criminal Court trial begins today in the case against the three women human rights defenders.
“Thai courts should immediately dismiss these complaints,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “This trial and others like it are a shameless attempt to harass, intimidate, and silence women human rights defenders. The courts have the authority to throw out complaints lodged in bad faith, and it’s time they exercise that authority in this case.”
The Court will hear the testimony of the prosecution and their witnesses starting today and continuing to March 17 and March 21. Further dates are set from March 22 to 23 and May 23 to 24 for the Court to hear the testimony of the defendants and their witnesses. The hearings are scheduled to take place between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
On January 16, 2023, after more than three years of preliminary hearings, the Bangkok South Criminal Court agreed to combine a separate case brought by Thammakaset against Angkhana Neelapaijit with the case involving all three defendants. The Court also scheduled new trial dates.
Thammakaset’s complaints against the three women are focused on 28 posts or re-posts on social media that contain messages of solidarity for human rights defenders facing lawsuits brought by the company, with links to news releases published by Fortify Rights. In total, the case involves 28 counts of alleged criminal defamation under the Thailand Criminal Code sections 326 and 328. This includes two counts against Angkhana Neelapaijit, a member of the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance; 21 counts against Fortify Rights former Senior Human Rights Specialist and current Director of The Fort Puttanee Kangkun; and five counts against former Fortify Rights Communication Associate Thanaporn Saleephol. Each count carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 Thai Baht (US$5,700).
The Community Resource Center Foundation, a legal aid organization, is representing Angkhana Neelapaijit, Puttanee Kangkun, and Thanaporn Saleephol in these proceedings.
Since 2016, Thammakaset has brought at least 37 complaints against 22 human rights defenders, mostly women, in Thailand. Thai courts have dismissed or ruled against the company in most cases.
On December 16, 2022, the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights urged Thai authorities to take action to stop Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, also known as SLAPP suits, used by Thai businesses to intimidate reporters and human rights advocates. In their statement, the U.N. Working Group specifically mentioned Thammakaset in their call to action, saying:
The cases filed by companies, such as Thammakaset Company Limited, against human rights defenders are a clear example of businesses abusing the legal system in order to censor, intimidate, and silence criticism through SLAPPs as a method of judicial harassment.
In 2018, the National Legislative Assembly amended Section 161/1 of the Thailand Criminal Procedure Code, allowing judges 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 to harass or take advantage of a defendant.” Section 165/2 also allows the presentation of evidence to show that the complaint “lacks merit.” Despite these amendments and specific requests for the courts to apply Section 161/1 to dismiss cases filed by Thammakaset, the courts have so far allowed these cases to proceed.
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 (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party. General Comment No. 34 of the Human Rights Committee on Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “State Parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression,” including “persons who engage in the gathering and analysis of information on the human rights situation who publish human rights-related reports.”
In October 2019, Thailand was the first country in Asia to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP), committing to protect human rights defenders and prevent judicial harassment. In 2022, the Rights and Liberties Protection Department under the Ministry of Justice introduced a draft second phase NAP. The draft focuses on improving the policies and measures to protect human rights defenders from SLAPP suits, including by raising awareness about the importance of the work of human rights defenders. In August and September 2022, the Ministry of Justice held public consultations on the draft NAP; however, the cabinet has yet to pass the draft.
“Thai authorities have an obligation to protect human rights defenders and the valuable contributions they make to Thai society,” said Amy Smith. “Thailand can’t be a leader in business when it fails to prevent this type of judicial harassment.”