Thailand: Judicial harassment of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri and Mr. Nan Wi
November 29, 2018, 4:14 am

According to the information received, on October 12, 2018, the Thai company Thammakaset Co. Ltd., which operated chicken farms in Lopburi Province, filed a defamation complaint at the Bangkok Criminal Court against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri. The complaint relates to three comments Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri made on Twitter on October 4, 2017, about a short video clip related to previous defamation complaints brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers from Myanmar. In this 107-second video clip, published by Fortify Rights on October 4, 2017, the Burmese migrant workers, including Mr. Nan Win, describe how the company filed criminal defamation complaints against them after the workers reported labour rights violations to the authorities. Violations included being paid less than the minimum wage, failure to pay overtime wages, and confiscation of their identity documents, including passports. The video clip called on the Thai authorities to drop criminal defamation charges against the 14 Burmese migrant workers and to abolish criminal defamation laws in Thailand.

If convicted, Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri faces up to six years in prison and/or a fine of up to 600,000 Thai Baht (around 16,000 EUR) under Articles 326 (‘defamation’) and 328 (‘libel’) of the Criminal Code.

On October 8, 2018, Thammakaset also filed a criminal defamation complaint against Mr. Nan Win, based on two interviews he provided to Fortify Rights. Mr. Nan Win gave his testimony at a Fortify Rights press conference on human rights defenders in Southeast Asia, which was held on October 6, 2017 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok, and another testimony for Fortify Rights’ short video clip – the same video clip the company used to prosecute Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri. The company alleged that his testimonies, which contained details of alleged labour rights abuses while he was working at the Thammakaset farm, damages the company’s reputation. If convicted, Mr. Nan Win faces up to four years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 400,000 Thai Baht (around 10,600 EUR) under Articles 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code.

The Bangkok Criminal Court will hold the preliminary hearings for the cases of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri and Mr. Nan Win on December 3, 2018.

On October 26, 2018, Thammakaset Co.Ltd also filed a separate civil defamation complaint against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri with the Civil Court in Bangkok, demanding 5,000,000 Thai Baht (around 133,000 EUR) in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation. The complaint is related to the same above-mentioned three Twitter comments, and demands that Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri publishes an apology to the company in four local newspapers and on her Twitter account for a minimum of 30 days and covers all legal costs. The Civil Court in Bangkok has scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing for this case on December 24, 2018.

The Observatory condemns the judicial harassment against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri and Mr. Nan Win, as well as Thammakaset’s recurrent attempts to harass human rights defenders and migrant workers denouncing labour rights violations, and inhibit their legitimate activities and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression (see background information).

The Observatory urges the Thai authorities to dismiss the above-mentioned complaints and to take pro-active steps to prevent further similar complaints, such as by decriminalizing defamation and requiring companies in Thailand to uphold their human rights obligations under Thai law and their responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Background information:

On October 6, 2016, Thammakaset brought criminal defamation and other charges – under Articles 137 and 326 of the Criminal Code – against the above-mentioned 14 migrant workers from Myanmar after the workers submitted the complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, alleging that the company had committed labour rights violations. On July 11, 2018, the Don Mueang Magistrate Court in Bangkok found that the 14 migrant workers were not guilty of criminal defamation and that their allegations of labour rights violations against the company were reasonable and well-founded.

On November 4, 2016, Thammakaset also filed complaints for criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act against Mr. Andy Hall, a British labour rights defender, for his social media posts that highlighted the 14 migrant workers’ case. The complaint against Andy Hall is still pending at the Bangkok South Criminal Court[2].

In September 2017, the Appeal Court upheld an order issued by the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare in Lopburi Province in August 2016, which required Thammakaset to pay 1.7 million Thai Baht (around 45,200 EUR) in compensation to the 14 workers for violations of Thailand’s Labour Protection Act.

In October 2017, Thammakaset brought further theft charges against Ms. Ye Ye and Mr. Soe Yong, two of the 14 migrant workers and Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a labour rights activist and Thailand coordinator with the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a civil-society organization promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers. The charges stemmed from the fact that they submitted their employment timecards, which the company alleged they had “stolen”, to the labour inspector officer as evidence of alleged labour rights violations.

On September 3, 2018, the Lopburi Provincial Court dismissed the merit of the complaint regarding the alleged theft of timecards by the two migrant workers and Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai.