Thailand: Ongoing judicial harassment of Sutharee Wannasiri and Nan Win

28/03/2019
Urgent Appeal

New information
THA 005 / 1118 / OBS 137.1
Judicial harassment
Thailand
March 28, 2019

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Thailand.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, a former Thailand Human Rights Specialist with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Fortify Rights [1], and Mr. Nan Win, a migrant worker from Myanmar, for denouncing labour rights violations by the Thai poultry company Thammakaset [2], against migrant workers from Myanmar.

According to the information received, on March 25, 2019, the Criminal Court in Bangkok decided that the defamation case filed by Thammakaset against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri should proceed. The trial of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri is set to begin on May 24, 2019. The Court also decided to combine her case with the case of Mr. Nan Win, which the Criminal Court had already ruled, on March 8, 2019, that it should proceed.

The Observatory recalls that Thammakaset filed separate defamation complaints against Mr. Nan Win and Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri on October 8 and 12, 2018, respectively. The complaints relate to Mr. Nan Win and Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri’s public comments and reporting of labour rights violations at Thammakaset farm (see background information). 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 (‘defamation’) and 328 (‘libel’) of the Criminal Code (on two counts). 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 the same Articles (on three counts).

The Observatory condemns the continuing 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 14 migrant workers from Myanmar after the workers submitted a 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 [3].

In September 2017, the Court of Appeals 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. On March 12, 2019, the Supreme Court confirmed the ruling and compensation was granted to the 14 workers.

In October 2017, Thammakaset brought further theft charges against Ms. Ye Ye and Mr. Soe Yong, two of the above-mentioned 14 migrant workers, and Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a labour rights activist and the Thailand coordinator of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a civil society organisation 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.

On October 4, 2017, Fortify Rights published on YouTube a 107-second video clip, in which Burmese migrant workers, including Mr. Nan Win, described how Thammakaset had 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, not being paid 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.

On October 6, 2017, Fortify Rights held a press conference on human rights defenders in Southeast Asia at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok, during which Mr. Nan Win gave a testimony.

On October 8, 2018, Thammakaset filed a criminal defamation complaint against Mr. Nan Win, based on his testimony at the Fortify Rights press conference held on October 6, 2017, and his testimony for Fortify Rights’ short video clip. The company alleged that his testimonies, which contained details of alleged labour rights abuses while he was working at the Thammakaset farm, damaged the company’s reputation.

On October 12, 2018, Thammakaset also filed a defamation complaint before the Bangkok Criminal Court against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri. The complaint relates to three comments Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri made on Twitter about the short video clip.

On October 26, 2018, Thammakaset 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 damage to the company’s reputation. The complaint is related to the same above-mentioned three Twitter comments and demands that Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri publish 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 held a preliminary hearing for this case on December 24, 2018. The Civil Court scheduled witness hearings on August 27-30, 2019.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Thailand asking them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, Mr. Nan Win, and all human rights defenders in Thailand;

ii. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Thailand are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of expression as required by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and abolish criminal defamation laws;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its Articles 1 and 12;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Thailand.

Addresses:

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 282 5131
Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 643 5320; Email: minister@mfa.go.th
Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, Minister of Justice of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 953 0503
Pol Gen Chaktip Chaijinda, Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, Fax: +66 (0) 2 251 5956 / +66 (0) 2 251 8702
Mr. Wat Tingsamit, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Email: help@nhrc.or.th
H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 715 10 00 / 10 02; Email: mission.thailand@ties.itu.int
Embassy of Thailand in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 648 30 66; Email: thaibxl@pophost.eunet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Thailand in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, March 28, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] Fortify Rights is an international NGO that works to prevent and remedy human rights violations, investigate abuses, and provide technical support to human rights defenders.
[2] Thammakaset Co. Ltd. operates chicken farms in Lopburi Province.
[3] For more information see Observatory Urgent Appeal THA 003 / 0815 / OBS 067.4, published on March 28, 2018.

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