In Thailand, Defamation Lawsuits Can Make Free Speech Costly

The Thai activist, Sutharee Wannasiri, knew the poultry firm had violated labor legal guidelines. She went on Twitter in 2017 to share a video containing an interview with an worker who mentioned he needed to work day and evening with no time off.

The poultry firm hit again, suing Ms. Sutharee for defamation and libel. Though a court docket discovered her not responsible in 2020, the corporate wasn’t completed.

While the case was nonetheless pending, her colleague at their human rights group spoke up for Ms. Sutharee on Twitter and Facebook. She, too, ended up being sued for defamation and libel. Now the colleague, Puttanee Kangkun, is going through a most of 42 years in jail as she awaits a verdict.

The circumstances exemplify what usually occurs in Thailand when firms and authorities officers are sad with public criticism. A prison defamation cost follows wherein critics are accused of spreading falsehoods, and defendants discover themselves mired in prolonged authorized battles and going through the specter of a jail sentence.

Powerful figures who know they will use the courts to intimidate, harass and punish critics have taken benefit of what the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights has referred to as “judicial harassment” in Thailand.

Though the poultry firm, Thammakaset, has been discovered responsible of labor abuses, it has continued to take its critics to court docket: first, individuals who talked concerning the labor abuses, and later those that complained concerning the measures the corporate was taking to silence these individuals.

Since 2016, Thammakaset has filed 39 lawsuits, principally prison defamation circumstances, towards 23 people: migrant staff, human rights defenders and journalists. It has misplaced all besides one, which was later overturned on attraction.

Three are nonetheless pending.

In addition to Ms. Puttanee, Thammakaset can be suing Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former National Human Rights Commissioner in Thailand, and Thanaporn Saleephol, a press officer for the European Union in Thailand.

All three girls took to social media to criticize Thammakaset’s lawsuits. All three are accused of defamation and libel; they’re being tried collectively.

Many nations in Southeast Asia have prison defamation legal guidelines, however Thailand stands out. Citizens “are just much more aggressive” in utilizing the legislation to “drag people into judicial processes that are slow and expensive,” in response to Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

In addition to the prison defamation legislation, there may be the Computer Crimes Act, which makes it a criminal offense to add “false” info that may “cause damage to the public.” Another legislation, defending the Thai monarchy from criticism, permits unusual Thais to file complaints for violations.

A U.Ok.-based rights watchdog, ARTICLE 19, cited statistics supplied by Thailand’s judicial authorities exhibiting that public prosecutors and personal events have filed greater than 25,000 prison defamation circumstances since 2015.

“The business and political elites see this as very effective because the courts are risk-averse; they accept almost any case that is, on its face, nonsensical,” Mr. Robertson mentioned.

Faced with calls to deal with the rampant misuse of the courts, the Thai authorities amended its Criminal Procedure Code in 2018 to make it simpler to dismiss circumstances towards defendants who can argue they’re appearing within the public curiosity. But attorneys say little has modified.

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, the lawyer representing Ms. Puttanee, Ms. Angkhana and Ms. Thanaporn, mentioned she filed a petition to get the circumstances thrown out beneath this provision, however the court docket denied her request.

Thammakaset’s grievance towards the three girls facilities on the 2018 video shared by Ms. Sutharee, which was made by Fortify Rights. Ms. Puttanee works for the group; Ms. Sutharee and Ms. Thanaporn each used to.

In their Twitter and Facebook posts, Ms. Puttanee, Ms. Angkhana and Ms. Thanaporn expressed solidarity with the activists who have been persecuted by Thammakaset. Their posts linked to a Fortify Rights information launch and a joint assertion with different human rights organizations that in the end linked to the video.

Thammakaset has cited the video, which incorporates an interview with a employee describing working lengthy hours and having his passport withheld, in its grievance.

In 2016, the Thai authorities dominated that Thammakaset had did not pay minimal and time beyond regulation wages or to supply enough go away to staff. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a decrease court docket’s order for the corporate to pay roughly $50,000 to a gaggle of 14 workers who had filed the labor grievance.

During a listening to for the three girls in March, Chanchai Pheamphon, the proprietor of Thammakaset, instructed the decide that he had already “paid his dues” to the employees, but the web criticism continued to harm his enterprise and his repute.

He mentioned his kids had requested him whether or not the household’s cash had come “from human trafficking, from selling slaves.”

“How should a father feel when his children asks him this?” Mr. Chanchai mentioned, his voice rising. “I have to use my rights to fight. But using my rights is seen as threatening, using the law to silence them.”

Mr. Chanchai instructed the court docket that nobody needed to do enterprise with him anymore. But in March, two rights teams printed an investigation exhibiting that after Thammakaset canceled its poultry farm certifications in 2016, a brand new poultry firm referred to as Srabua was established by a person who shared the identical deal with as Mr. Chanchai.

Mr. Chanchai denied any data of Srabua.

Asked by a New York Times reporter if he deliberate to file extra lawsuits towards critics of the corporate, Mr. Chanchai mentioned, “You’re a reporter for a big news agency. If someone says you’re a drug dealer, will you fight back?”

Decriminalizing defamation circumstances might have saved Thai taxpayers $3.45 million over 2016 to 2018, in response to the Thai Human Rights Lawyers Association. Defendants in civil fits may also count on to pay massive sums of cash out of pocket.

During the March listening to, Ms. Puttanee, 52, introduced a backpack full of garments to court docket. Commuting from her house to the court docket takes two hours every manner, so every time she attends a listening to, she books a resort at her personal expense.

She mentioned she expects the case to final 4 years if Thammakaset decides to convey its argument all the way in which to the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Ms. Puttanee counts herself fortunate: She is in a neighborhood that has rallied round her, and her lawyer works professional bono.

“But I still treat this as intimidation,” she mentioned.

During the listening to, Mr. Chanchai detailed how Ms. Puttanee’s Twitter posts had defamed his firm. His account took 5 hours; Ms. Puttanee nodded off throughout his testimony.

Ms. Angkhana, the previous human rights commissioner, is well-known in Thailand due to her husband, Somchai Neelapaijit, a human rights lawyer who vanished in 2004 and whose destiny stays unknown.

She mentioned the present lawsuit has taken a toll on her psychological well being.

“It is repeated trauma when somebody attacks you, when you didn’t do anything wrong,” mentioned Ms. Angkhana, 67. “This is the real aim of the company — to make you feel powerless.”

Ms. Thanaporn, 29, mentioned there was irony in changing into a sufferer of the very course of she was denouncing, just by sharing assist for her fellow activists on-line.

“The fact that I can be sued for this speaks for itself,” she mentioned.

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