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Thai activist sued for defamation as poultry firm vows more cases

  • News Desk

    Agence France-Presse

Bangkok, Thailand   /   Thu, November 29, 2018   /   11:11 pm
Thai activist sued for defamation as poultry firm vows more cases Migrant workers from Myanmar gesture defiantly for the media before entering court to face defamation charges by a Thammakaset chicken farm, after they accused the company of labour abuses, at Don Muang Magistrates Court in Bangkok on February 7, 2018. Fourteen Myanmar migrant workers faced a defamation trial in Bangkok on February 7 for accusing the Thai chicken farm of labour abuses, a case excoriated by rights groups as an effort to silence whistleblowers in the kingdom's notoriously exploitative migrant labour sector. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP (AFP/Lilian Suwanrumpha)

A defamation case by a Thai poultry farm against an activist who tweeted allegations of labour abuse should be dropped, a rights group urged Wednesday, as the complainant vowed further action against "so-called human rights defenders". 

Thailand exports billions of dollars of farm products to western markets in poorly regulated industries heavily reliant on migrant labour from nearby Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

A chicken farm owned by the Thammakaset company in Lopburi province has been at the center of disputes by Myanmar workers about grueling days, lack of overtime and confiscated documents.

It has hit back with multiple defamation suits, a criminal offence in Thailand, but has yet to win.

Still the company has filed fresh defamation charges against one of the former workers named Nan Win and prominent Thai activist Sutharee Wannasiri, who had shared on social media a 107-second video about the case produced by NGO Fortify Rights.

Fortify, where Sutharee worked at the time, urged the company and authorities to drop the complaint, which will reach court on December 3.

"These complaints are a form of judicial harassment and should be dropped immediately," said Amy Smith of Fortify.

The International Federation for Human Rights also condemned the lawsuit.

But Thammakaset owner Chanchai Pheamphon said he was forced to bring the suits to defend the name of his company from false allegations.

"For the past two years, everyone blamed me but they never did a proper investigation," he said, denying accusations of confiscating passports and making workers endure herculean shifts of more than 20 hours.  

"From now on, you will see that more lawsuits will be filed against a series of so-called human rights defenders in Thailand who to me are actually (rights) violators," he warned, adding that attempts at negotiation had failed.

Betagro, a Thai food giant that sells to clients around the globe, has said it cut ties with the supplier farm after the initial abuse claims.

If convicted on all counts, Sutharee said she could face up to six years in prison while the Myanmar worker could face four. Both could also face large fines.

Sutharee said she believed the lawsuit was an "intimidation tactic".

Activism is fraught with risk in Thailand where political and business elite frequently bring legal cases against critics.