International organisations are joining the call for Thai authorities and a Thai-owned poultry company to drop criminal and civil defamation complaints brought by the company against human rights defenders.
Rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri said 15 international, regional and national groups joined with Fortify Rights to issue a joint statement on Monday calling on Thammakaset Company Ltd to drop its “harassment” of the defenders.
If convicted, Nan Win faces up to four years in prison and Bt400,000 in fines, and Sutharee Wannasiri faces up to six years in prison and fines of up to Bt600,000.
The Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to hold preliminary hearings on the criminal complaints on Monday.
“These complaints are an attempt to intimidate and harass human rights defenders, and the authorities should put a stop to it,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The company is taking aim at human rights defenders involved in exposing alleged labour rights violations.”
The complaints relate to a 107-second film produced by Fortify Rights about previous defamation complaints brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers from Myanmar
In the film, released in October 2017, three former workers described how the company brought criminal defamation charges against them after the workers reported labour-rights violations to the Thai authorities, including unlawfully low wages, failure to pay overtime wages and confiscation of their identity documents, including passports.
The statement on Monday calls on the company – a Thai-owned firm operating in Lopburi Province – to “also withdraw all criminal complaints and unsubstantiated civil complaints against other migrant workers and human rights defenders for their involvement in peaceful activities protected by international human rights law”.
Thammakaset filed the most recent criminal and civil defamation complaints against Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri in October 2018. Thammakaset accuses Nan Win, a former worker from Myanmar, of spreading “untruthful” information about alleged labour rights violations by the company, pointing to the Fortify Rights film in which Nan Win is featured and a Facebook-live broadcast of a public event in Bangkok.
The complaints against Sutharee Wannasiri, a woman human-rights defender and a former human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, stem from three tweets posted on her twitter page in October 2017 that linked to the Fortify Rights film.
Thammakaset also brought civil defamation complaints against Sutharee Wannasiri, seeking Bt5 million in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation.
“Human rights work is not a crime,” said Amy Smith. “Sutharee Wannasiri and Nan Win are the latest victims of the judicial harassment epidemic in Thailand, and they won’t be the last unless the Thai authorities take decisive action.”
Signatories to the statement include Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, FORUM-ASIA, Migrant Workers Rights Network, the Cross Cultural Foundation, the Community Resource Centre Foundation, and the Asia Pacific Forum for Women, Law and Development, among others.
The statement also calls on Thailand to make defamation “exclusively a civil and non-criminal legal infraction”.
Under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Thailand is a party, imprisonment for defamation is inherently disproportionate and therefore can never be an appropriate sanction.
The organisations further calls on the Thai authorities to enact legislation to prevent “specious legal complaints through Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits”.
“Action to end SLAPP lawsuits is in line with promoting responsible, rights-respecting business practices,” the statement reads, noting that such legislation would be consistent with the Thai government’s current efforts to develop a national action plan on business and human rights.