Thai Court Finds Labor Activist Guilty of Defamation

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – A court decision in a Bangkok on March 26th found a human rights activist guilty of defamation.

Andy Hall, a labor rights activist, was doing research on working conditions in Natural Fruit Co., Ltd., a pineapple tinning company in Thailand. His 2013 report described cases of extortion of migrant worker labor, labor trafficking, child labor, and violence. His research was in collaboration with the Finish NGO, Finnwatch. Following the publication of his research, Hall sat down with Al Jazeera for an interview. As a result, National Fruit filed a complaint under article 420 of the Civil and Commercial Code for defamation.

Andy hall talking to press outside Thai courthouse in 2016. Photo courtesy of Sakchai Lalit.

This is just one of four cases Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. has brought forward against Hall. In 2013, the court dismissed the case as a result of lack of jurisdiction as Al Jazeera had interviewed Hall while he was in Myanmar, not Thailand. Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. appealed, and the case was accepted in August 2017. On March 26th, the court found Hall guilty and subjected him to pay $312,500 USD (10 million Thai baht) as well as lawyer and court fees to Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. Hall plans to appeal this court decision.

In 2016, Hall was also found guilty of criminal defamation and computer crimes against Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. He was sentenced to 4 years in jail and a $6,250 USD (200,00 baht) fee. He appealed this case. His appeals trial is set for next month on April 24, 2018.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes that these cases against Hall will discourage further research into labor rights in Thailand.  A HRW researcher said of the situation, “The Thai government should not look the other way while companies use the courts to undermine corporate accountability for labor rights abuses. If the Thai government is really against labor exploitation, it should promote changes in the law that would prevent abusive libel cases.”

The Thai government said last year that they remain committed to the UN values of human rights and that they have implemented statutes to protect laborers.

 For more information, please see:  

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Verdict Threatens Labor Abuse Reporting – 28 March 2018

Al Jazeera – HRW condemns libel verdict against rights worker Andy Hall – 28 March 2018

Andy Hall’s Blog – Washington Post/AP 26th March 2018: Thai court finds British labor activist defamed fruit firm – 27 March 2018

Forced Labor on Thai Fishing Boats Persists

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Despite reforms in the fishing industry of Thailand, there has been some resistance regarding the acceptance of new regulations. Migrant workers from neighboring countries continue to be trafficked into the fishing industry.

Fishing Boat in Port. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Murphy.

There are restrictions regarding movement between employers, delays in payment, withholdings of contracts and workers information, and reductions in wages to levels below minimum wage. Employers keep employment cards, known as ‘pink cards’, to prevent laborers from leaving. Interviews also told of 16-hour work days. One man reported leaving the port at 6 am and returning to land after sunrise the next morning, only to sort the fish.

Thailand has yet to create an effective monitoring and inspection protocol for the fishing industry. In contrast to investigations carried out by Human Rights Watch, Thai investigations declared no cases of forced labor or poor working conditions. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in every major fishing port in Thailand. Within 34 groups, there were 20 forced labor cases. Another investigation carried out by the International Justice Mission reported that more than 1/3 of fishers are trafficking victims.

The representative of Thailand’s National Fisheries Association, Mongkol Sukchararoenkana, noted in an interview, “There is no exploitation like in the past. The consumers of the USA and Europe can eat our seafood. Everything is fine. Every problem has been fixed by the current government. The boats are correct and the workers are correct. There is no more forced labor.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented, “… there has been significant improvement in the labour situation in the fishing industry in many areas. Disappointedly, the Report of HRW contains many outdated references… [and] does not take into consideration the current progress and efforts made by Thailand in solving labor problems.”

Human Rights Watch acknowledges the attempts as improvements but notes that numbers have not changed from 2012, when 1 in 5 fishers worked in some variation of forced labor conditions. 

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Forced Labor, Trafficking Persist in Fishing Fleets – 23 January 2018

CNN – Abuse of migrant workers ‘rampant’ in Thai fishing fleets, rights group says – 25 January 2018

Thomson Reuters Foundation – ‘It was torture’: Grim tales in Thai fishing sector despite reforms – 23 January 2018

Shooting and Bombing in Southern Thailand Leaves Several Injured

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 BANGKOK, Thailand – For the past 13 years, armed conflict has been waging in Southern Thailand. The clashes are between Muslim-Malay insurgents and Thai troops and police.   Most of the victims of the shootings and bombs are civilians. These attacks happen nearly daily.   The Muslim-Malay fighters hope to gain more autonomy in this conflict.

Forensic scientists at the scene of a shooting and bombing incident in southern Thailand in April. Photo courtesy of EPA// The Malaysian Insight.

Since the junta seized power in 2014 and started peace talks, incidents decreased. “This year’s [2017] death toll is the lowest ever if no significant incidents happen in the coming days” reports a Deep South Watch representative. As of a November 2017 report, the latest monthly report available on Deep South Watch’s webpage, there have been 37 incidents. This resulted in 18 death and 18 injured. Most of the victims have been male and between the ages of 18 and 59.

Adding to this list are 6 Thai rangers and a woman who were injured in a separate shooting and bombing on December 26, 2017.

The December 26th incident was a shooting. Four rangers drove through Jalan Kampung Daging-Kampung Bilok in Narathiwat, when “unknown individuals fires multiple shots at the vehicle.” All four received gunshot injurious. A stray bullet injured a civilian woman.

About half an hour later, a bomb exploded close to the scene of the shooting. Two rangers, helping the shooting victims, were injured. 

For more information, please see:

 The Malaysian Insight – 6 rangers, woman hurt in southern Thailand shooting and bombing – 26 December 2017

The Straits Times – Death toll in Thailand’s southern conflict hits record low – 27 December 2017

 Deep South Watch – Summary of Incidents in Southern Thailand, November 2017 – 7 December 2017

Former Prime Minister of Thailand Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – On September 27, 2017, the Supreme Court of Thailand convicted Yingluck Shinawatra, former Prime Minster of negligence and sentenced her to five years in prison. The former prime minister was found negligent for her government’s role in a rice-subsidy program that cost the country billions of dollars.

Supporters protest Yingluck Shinawatra’s conviction outside the Supreme Court. Image courtesy of New York Times.

Under Yingluck’s government, the country’s rice farmers were paid 50% above market prices which lead to a large stockpile of grain. This scheme was planned with the intention of driving up prices for the global market. However, due to the fluctuation in prices, Vietnam became the world’s leading rice exporter.

For many years, Thailand went through power struggles between the traditional elites and the Shinawatra family. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra served as the country’s prime minister for five years. He was ultimately ousted in 2006. Despite the country being controlled by the Shinawatra family since 2001, many judicial actions and two military coupes have impacted their control. In 2014, Yingluck, who served as the country’s first female prime minister was removed from office.

The Shinawatra family supported the rural poor through their populist policies while the traditional elites portrayed the family as corrupt and power-hungry. Before Yingluck left the country, she maintained her innocence and accused the military government of political persecution.

Last month, the current regime convicted a former commerce minister under Yingluck’s government to 42 years in prison for falsifying the rice deal.

Reuters – Fugitive former Thai PM Yingluck gets five years’ jail in absentia – 26 September, 2017

Time – Thailand’s Fugitive Former Leader Has Been Sentenced After Skipping Court – 27 September, 2017

NYT – Yingluck Shinawatra, Ex-Leader Who Fled Thailand, Gets 5-Year Sentence – 27 September, 2017

Thai Lawyer Faces Up To 150 Years in Prison for Insulting Royal Family

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – A Thai human rights lawyer appeared in court on May 3 where he was charged with 10 counts of royal defamation. If convicted, Prawet Prapanukul faces up to 150 years in prison. His case is the most number of charges for the crime brought against an individual in recent history.

A portrait of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is see on the building of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Photo courtesy of EPA.

Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law makes it a crime to threaten, insult, or defame the king, queen, heir-apparent, or the regent, as enshrined in Article 112 of the country’s criminal code. There is no definition of what constitutes such an insult to the monarchy, and lèse-majesté complaints can be brought by anyone, against anyone, and are always required to be formally investigated by the police.

In addition to 10 counts of insulting the monarchy, Prawet is accused on three counts of breaking section 116 of Thailand’s criminal code, which covers sedition. Human Rights Watch has warned that the laws are being used by military authorities to curb the opposition.

It is still not known what Prawet might have written or said that led to his arrest and charges. A spokesperson for the military government declined to comment on the case. Thailand’s military seized power from an elected civilian government in a spring 2014 coup. Since the government was overthrown, the junta has detained hundreds of journalists, activists, and politicians for alleged protests and anti-junta activities.

It is unclear what will happen in Prawet’s case, but the Thai junta have made it clear that it is unaccepting of any acts in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Thai lawyer faces 150 years in jail for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

The Telegraph – Thai rights lawyer faces up to 150 years in prison for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

Jurist – Thailand human rights lawyer charged for insulting royal family – 4 May, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Thailand: ‘Missing’ lawyer appears in court, faces 150 years’ jail for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

RT News – Top Thai human rights lawyer faces 150 years in prison for ‘royal insult’ – 4 May, 2017

BBC News – Thailand’s lese-majeste laws explained – 3 December, 2016

Thailand Facing New Controversy Over Death of Teen Activist, Despite Dropping Defamation Suits

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – The controversy surrounding the death of teenage activist Chaiyaphum Pasae, who was shot and killed by Thai soldiers during a drug raid, continues to grow. Conflicting accounts of what happened leading up to Pasae’s death are adding to the uproar warning of intimidation and manipulation by Thailand’s military.

Chaiyaphum Pasae, ethnic rights activist, was shot and killed by the Thai military on March 17, 2017. Photo courtesy of FrontLineHRD.

Accoring to the military, Pasae was travelling in a car when he was stopped at a routine checkpoint. While the car was being searched for drugs, the military says, Pasae ran from the scene and into a nearby jungle. He was about to throw a hand grenade when one soldier intervened and shot Pasae in self defense. Eye witnesses, however, report a very different unfolding of events. Eye witnesses are claiming that the group of soldiers physically assaulted Pasae at the checkpoint, and as he attempted to escape, he was shot by one of the soldiers.

Human rights organizations have long warned of the lack of protections for activists in Thailand. The United Nations warned that groups like human rights defenders, women, and other vulnerable groups are most susceptible to such abuses. The UN report notes that hundreds of individuals have been jailed since the 2014 military coup for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

In early March, the Thai military took a small but significant step in ending government intimidation by dropping frivolous defamation suits against three prominent activists. In 2016, rights lawyers Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkie, and Anchana Heemmina published a report citing 54 cases of alleged military abuse and torture of prisoners in military custody. The Thai Internal Security Operations Command responded by filing a criminal complaint against the lawyers, accusing them of defamation and breaches of the Computer Crimes Act.

Thailand has a long way to go when ensuring the equal protection of human rights, and human rights organizations will continue to keep an eye on the government and its actions.

For more information, please see:

Asian Correspondent – Thailand: Pressure grows for transparency in probe on teen activist’s death – 31 March, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Activists, women and ethnic minorities lack protection in Thailand – UN – 29 March, 2017

VOA News – Activists Welcome Thai Decision to Drop Charges Against Rights Report Author – 8 March, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Defamation Cases Dropped Against Activists – 7 March, 2017

Thailand’s Voice TV Suspended for Airing Criticisms of Military Junta

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s media regulator has reprimanded a television station for airing comments which criticized the nation’s military. On March 27, 2017, Lt. Gen. Peerapong Manakit of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) announced the decision to suspend Voice TV, a private television station. The week long suspension is the government’s direct response to the station’s criticism of military rule. The complaints were filed by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military junta, which accused Voice TV of broadcasting inaccurate and biased stories.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha salutes army officers at Thailand’s Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the decision to punish Voice TV for the content of its broadcasts. The organization warns that the military junta is simply bullying the media into becoming a mouthpiece for its own advantage. Such regulation will stop the media from reporting on important issues like human rights violations, investigations of official misconduct and government abuse of power.

The controversial statements made by Voice TV related to the raid on Dhammakaya Temple, the army’s killing of a teenage ethnic Lahu activist, the controversial construction of a casino on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, as well as the arrest of anti-government groups for allegedly possessing weapons in a plot to assassinate high-profile politicians.

This is not the first time Voice TV has been punished for reporting uncensored and independent stories. In 2016, the station was sanctioned over 10 times for its controversial reports critical of the junta.

Independent media is crucial to inform the public of rights violations and the honest, uncensored development of news stories. Human rights organizations are therefore calling on Thailand’s government to put an end to the censorship and make a commitment to uphold media freedom.

For more information, please see:

The Nation – Voice TV banned for 7 days – 28 March, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Drop Suspension on TV Station for Criticizing Army – 30 March, 2017

Bangkok Post – Media must be wary of losing its voice – 31 March, 2017

Global Voices – Thai Junta’s Media Regulator Suspends Voice TV for ‘Unreasonable Criticism’ and ‘Biased Content’ – 28 March, 2017 

Thailand Urged to Criminalize Torture and Enforced Disappearances

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – On February 28, the UN human rights office urged the government of Thailand to criminalize enforced or involuntary disappearances and the torture of individuals. Thailand has a prolonged history of disappearances, including that of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, and human rights activist Pholachi Rakchongcharoen in 2014. A UN working group on enforced disappearances recorded a total of 82 cases of disappearance in Thailand since 1980.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at a cabinet meeting in May 2016. Photo courtesy of: Reuters.

Currently, Thailand does not legally recognize torture and enforced disappearances as criminal behavior. In May 2016, Thailand’s government did announce its intention to submit a bill to criminalize the behaviors. Importantly, the proposed bill would be the first Thai law to recognize the illegality of torture and enforced disappearances with absolutely no exceptions for political or national security circumstances. However, the government failed to provide a plan or frame for taking action on the matter.

Torture in Thailand has become increasingly severe since the military coup in May 2014, with many reports of individuals being taken into military custody and being tortured or mistreated. Reports allege that individuals have undergone torture through beatings, electric shocks, and near suffocation. Not only has the government vehemently denied these allegations, but it has blamed individuals for making false statements with the intention of damaging the country’s reputation.

Since October 2007, Thailand has been a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention requires governments to investigate and prosecute instances of torture and the like. Now, organizations like the UN and Human Rights Watch are urging states to press the Thai government on this issue and protect and enforce fundamental human rights and liberties.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – U.N. says Thailand leaves legal loophole for torture, disappearances – 28 February, 2017

United Nations – UN rights office disappointed with with Thai Government’s refusal to criminalize enforced disappearances – 28 February, 2017 

Human Rights Watch – World Report: Thailand – 2016

Bangkok Post – The faces of the disappeared – 3 February, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Thailand, Myanmar Migrant Workers

By Kaitlyn Degnan

Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer

Samut Sakhon, THAILAND —A number of Thai officials and law enforcement officers have reportedly been transferred to other positions, and some are reported to have lost their jobs entirely, following a visit from Myanmar  State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to Talad Talay Thai in Samut Sakhon province. The area is known as “Little Myanmar” due the large number of Myanmar migrants working there, who mostly work in fishing and manufacturing.

Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand, 23 June 2016. (Photo courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to a group of migrant workers at the Talay Thai Hall, though their numbers were smaller than expected. Although about 500 migrant workers had been “selected” by business owners to attend the gathering, only about 200 were permitted inside. Thousands reportedly gathered nearby hoping to see the State Counsellor, claiming that those with the “worst” grievances were not permitted to attend.

Migrants living and working in Thailand have long complained of abuse from business owners and Thai officials. International groups have also reported abuses in the area, including allegations of human  trafficking, forced labor, child labor and discrimination. The migrants are especially vulnerable because they lack citizenship status, and there is great confusion among the general population and even migrant aid groups as to what Thai law requires.

During her visit, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Thai Prime Minister Prayutth Chan-o-cha to negotiate two agreements and a memorandum of understanding, which discuss employment, labor cooperation and border crossing. The goal of the negotiations is to simplify the process and provide information to the migrants. One  aspect would create a pre-departure orientation center in Maw Sot, Tak province.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won Myanmar’s first free and fair parliamentary elections in  November 2015. Although the leader of the party, she was not permitted to be “President” due to a constitutional amendment that bars persons with foreign relatives from holding that title. As a result, the position of “State Counsellor” was created specifically for her, allowing her to rule by proxy. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s international status as an advocate for democracy (she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991), she and her party have faced criticism for not addressing the plight of the Rohingya.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Aung San Suu Kyi Fast Facts – 17 June 2016

Radio Free Asia – Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand – 23 June 2016

Andalou Agency – 23 Thai officials removed from posts after Suu Kyi trip – 27 June 2016

Burma News International – Thousands of Burmese Migrant Workers Kept Away from Aung San Suu Kyi – 28 June 2016

Fish Info & Services – Officials removed due to alleged link to migrant workers’ abuse – 28 June 2016

Myanmar Times – After state counsellor’s visit, overhaul of Thai migrant workers scheme expected, 1 July 2016