Thai appeals court dismisses case against British activist

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British labor rights activist Andy Hall is shown in this Nov. 3, 2016, file photo. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
British labor rights activist Andy Hall is shown in this Nov. 3, 2016, file photo. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — An appeals court on Thursday vindicated a British labor rights activist entangled in a years-long legal confrontation with a fruit-packing company after he publicized alleged human rights violations at its factory.

The legal victory for Andy Hall was welcomed by Amnesty International but is not necessarily the end of protracted court battles that forced him to leave Thailand in 2016.

A criminal defamation and other cases against Hall stemmed from a 2013 report he researched for Finnish consumer organization Finnwatch that alleged labor abuses at Natural Fruit’s pineapple canning operation. It employed migrant workers from Myanmar who said the company abused them and broke labor regulations.

Sunya Joongdee, a lawyer for Hall, said Thursday’s court ruling dismissed the criminal defamation case, which also resulted in the collapse of a related computer crime case.

He said the court accepted that Hall’s interviews with migrant workers revealed allegations of rights violations that should be made public. Hall was found guilty of criminal defamation in 2016, fined and given a suspended prison sentence.

Natural Fruit, owned by businessman Wirat Piyapornpaiboon, can appeal to the Supreme Court. Other cases brought by both sides as the legal battle escalated are still before the courts.

On Twitter, Hall said he had previously lost hope of justice but now a “flame was reignited in my heart.”

“There is still the possibility that today’s verdict could lead in some way to peace and reconciliation,” he said.

Amnesty International’s Thailand campaigner, Katherine Gerson, said the ruling should be followed with law changes that prevent companies using the courts to harass activists who campaign against abusive corporate practices.

“This successful appeal is very welcome, and it underlines how the original conviction against Andy Hall was an abuse of justice that should never have been allowed,” she said in a statement.

Finnwatch also welcomed the ruling.