British activist found guilty of defamation over food report

BANGKOK • A British activist was found guilty of criminal defamation yesterday and given a suspended jail sentence over a report alleging abuses in Thailand's lucrative fruit industry - a verdict the UN described as "very disturbing".

Mr Andy Hall, who lives in Thailand, has faced a series of legal actions for contributing to a 2013 report on a Natural Fruit factory in the south of the country, alleging poor working conditions, low wages and child labour.

Yesterday, he was found guilty of defamation and breaching computer crime laws in a private prosecution filed by Natural Fruit.

Mr Hall was given a three-year suspended sentence and fined 150,000 baht (S$5,900), his lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat said.

The contentious report - "Cheap Has a High Price" - was published by the Finnish civil rights group Finnwatch. It heaped pressure on Thailand's food industry.

Natural Fruit, a major supplier to the European drink market, has denied the allegations in the report and has also launched a civil case seeking US$10 million(S$13.6 million) in damages.

The United Nations' Human Rights Office for South-East Asia said the ruling was "very disturbing".

"It would have been more appropriate to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the serious allegations raised in the Finnwatch report," acting regional representative Laurent Meillan said in a statement.

Mr Hall, who said he will appeal the verdict, stands by his research and has accused the company of trying to detract from the report's findings. Mr Hall was acquitted by a court last year on a separate defamation charge pursued by Thailand's attorney general.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'British activist found guilty of defamation over food report'. Print Edition | Subscribe