Front Line Defenders, the Irish NGO that works to protect threatened human rights defenders around the world, has highlighted the case of Andy Hall, a human rights campaigner and researcher based in Thailand who has been the subject of a lawsuit and criminal complaint at the instigation of the Natural Fruit Company Limited. The Thai company has accused him of defaming and damaging the company by “broadcasting false statements to public media” arising out of a report on labelling and food production in Thailand which he co-authored for the NGO Finnwatch.
The full report is only available in Finnish, but an English summary details the poor pay and dangerous conditions for workers at the Natural Fruit Company’s factory. For his part in the publication of the report, Andy Hall has been subject to a criminal charge of broadcasting false statements, and if convicted could face up to two years in prison in Thailand and a large fine. A defamation lawsuit filed by the company could lead to a fine running to hundreds of millions of Thai Baht. Front Line have described the legal action against him as “an attempt to silence human rights defenders in Thailand who, peacefully and legitimately, exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, in order to defend and promote migrant and labour rights”.
A case has also arisen in Costa Rica, where the Canadian mining company, Infinito Gold, has taken legal action against a university professor and put pressure on the University of Costa Rica to withdraw a seminar being taught by Professor Jorge Lobo on the history and impact of one of the company’s controversial mines. Infinito Gold has encountered considerable legal difficulties with its mining operations in Costa Rica, and is now turning the law on its perceived critics. The Canadian Association of University Teachers rightly states that this “interference with academic activities is wholly inappropriate and significantly threatens academic freedom”.
These two cases bring to mind the fate of the Centre for Public Inquiry in Ireland some years back. The Centre had been established to “investigate matters of public importance in Irish political, public and corporate life”, but was attacked by members of the Irish Government, particular those of the now defunct Progressive Democrats party, and threatened with legal action by prominent property developers. It had been headed by Fergus Flood, a former High Court judge. The pressure applied to it, focusing on allegations regarding one of its staff members, eventually lead to the withdrawal of its funding by Atlantic Philanthropies. As part of its work, the Centre had produced a detailed report on the controversial Corrib gas pipeline involving Shell and Statoil.