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Thailand moves to silence reporting

BANGKOK (SE): Amnesty International claims that one more human rights advocate has been unjustly targeted in Thailand. It describes a guilty verdict against Andy Hall, a British migrant rights worker, by a court in Bangkok on September 20 as an appalling trial that should never have happened.

Champa Patel, from Amnesty, said, “Thailand needs to take seriously its obligation to protect human rights activists rather than allowing its legal system to be hijacked by companies seeking to silence those exposing abusive practices.”

Hall was found guilty in the Bangkok South Criminal Court for defamation after charges were brought against him by Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. The company was the subject of a 2013 report that Hall worked on for the civil society group, Finnwatch, while researching abuse against migrant workers in Thailand.

“Sadly, the case against Andy Hall is just one of many in which human rights defenders face criminal defamation charges for their crucial work supporting vulnerable individuals and communities. Criminal defamation provisions are being used to silence people who do a public service by uncovering injustice,” Patel said.

Hall was fined 150,000 baht ($33,325) and received a three-year sentence suspended for two years. He will not serve time in prison unless he breaks the terms of his probation.

Meanwhile, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance has expressed fears about a proposed bill to create an 11-member National Professional Media Council, which it says would open the door to further intervention by political and business entities in controlling the freedom of the press to report on injustice in the country.

The council would have the power to deregister any journalist or media organisation at any time and would not protect them from civil cases being filed against them in court.

Although there is a provision for the media to object if the suit infringes on the freedom of the media, the section severely limits this, as once a case is officially filed, it overrules this option.

The bill is being proposed by the National Reform Steering Assembly, which is appointed by the military.

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