09/09/2022, 17.16
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Thai companies taking human rights advocates to court

by Steve Suwannarat

Businesses are regularly using defamation laws against those who report abuse. In the latest case, three women face up to two years in prison. They are expected to appear in court next week to be indicted.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – A Thai court is set to rule on a defamation lawsuit filed by Thammakaset, a poultry and dairy company.

Following a preliminary hearing on 31 May, the Criminal Court of Bangkok South will decide next Monday to indict or not the three women.

This is not the first time that companies have taken legal action against individuals and organisations defending the rights of workers, consumers, and immigrants and opposed unsafe or illegal working conditions and practices.

The lawsuit stems from online messages and videos that the three activists posted on Twitter expressing solidarity with human rights defenders criticised or attacked by the company.

The company has filed 28 defamation suits, citing Articles 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code.

Two are against Angkana Neelapaijit, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission and a member of the United Nations Operational Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

Another 21 cases involve Puttanee Kangkun, senior human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, a human rights group, while the last five others target Thanaporn Saleephol, a former communications associate of the same NGO.

The charges are based on a video release by Fortify Rights that other courts have already ruled “non-defamatory”. If the three women are found guilty, each faces up to two years in prison and a US$ 5,700 fine.

The Community Resources Centre Foundation, which provides legal information, resources and aid, has called for the charges to be dropped in accordance with Article 161/1 of the Thai Code of Criminal Procedure.

Angkana Neelapaijit is already on trial in another a lawsuit brought by Thammakaset, with the first hearing scheduled for 14 March 2023.

Since 2016, the company has filed at least 37 lawsuits against 22 human rights advocates, but in most cases, the courts have either dismissed the case or ruled against the plaintiff.

This shows once again the constant tug-of-war between business interests seeking to protect their image and the laws designed to protect freedom of information and expression in accordance with Thailand’s international commitments.

As Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, notes, “Decriminalising defamation in Thailand is one measure that would significantly reduce unwarranted attacks on human rights defenders and demonstrate Thailand’s genuine commitment to uphold its human rights obligations.”

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