Today, the ICJ joined fifteen other organizations to call on the Thai authorities and Thammakaset Company Limited to ensure that criminal and civil defamation complaints brought by the company against human rights defenders Nan Win and Sutharee Wannasiri do not proceed.
The charges have been leveled in connection with work by the two defenders to bring attention to labour rights violations at a Thammakaset-owned chicken farm in Thailand.
The organizations further called on the Thai authorities to act to ensure that no person is held criminally liable for defamation, including by decriminalizing defamation in Thai law and protecting individuals from abusive litigation aimed at curtailing the rights to freedom of expression and access to information and other activities of human rights defenders.
Today, the Bangkok Criminal Court will hold preliminary hearings on the criminal defamation complaints filed by Thammakaset Co. Ltd. against the two human rights defenders.
“This is the most recent in a series of spurious legal cases brought by companies in Thailand aimed at intimidating human rights defenders and curtailing their important work in defence of human rights,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.
“Thai authorities must take all necessary measures in law and in practice to ensure that private business entities do not misuse the law to interfere with human rights such as freedom of expression and access to information.”
On 12 and 26 October 2018, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. filed criminal and civil defamation complaints against Nan Win, a migrant worker from Myanmar, and Sutharee Wannasiri, a woman human rights defender and a former Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights.
The complaints related to a 107-second film published by non-governmental organization Fortify Rights on 4 October 2017 that called on Thai authorities to drop criminal defamation charges against 14 migrant workers at a Thammakaset-operated chicken farm and to decriminalize defamation in Thailand.
Nan Win was one of the above-mentioned 14 migrant workers and faces a criminal defamation suit for reportedly testifying about alleged labour rights violations he faced in the Thammakaset-operated farm. Sutharee Wannasiri faces criminal and civil defamation suits for reportedly sharing information about the Fortify Rights film on Twitter.
If convicted of criminal defamation, Nan Win faces up to four years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 400,000 Thai Baht (more than US$12,150) and Sutharee Wannasiri faces up to six years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 600,000 Thai Baht (more than US$18,200). Thammakaset Co. Ltd. is also seeking five million Thai Baht (US$151,400) in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation in its civil defamation suit against Sutharee Wannasiri.
“We urge the Thai government not only to uphold their own legal obligations, but also to remind business enterprises in Thailand that they are also responsible for upholding human rights under international standards and domestic law,” said Seiderman.
Thailand-Drop defamation Nan Win Sutharee Wannasiri-Advocacy-Joint Statement-2018-ENG (Joint Statement, English, PDF)
Thailand-Drop defamation Nan Win Sutharee Wannasiri-Advocacy-Joint Statement-2018-THA (Joint Statement, Thai, PDF)
On 12 October 2018, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. filed a criminal defamation suit under sections 326 and 328 of Thailand’s Criminal Code against Sutharee Wannasiri, a former Thailand Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights, for three comments she was alleged to have made on Twitter related to the Fortify Rights film.
On 26 October 2018, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. filed a criminal defamation suit under sections 326 and 328 of Thailand’s Criminal Code against Nan Win, one of the 14 migrant workers from Myanmar, for two interviews he gave in a Fortify Rights film and during a Fortify Rights press conference on 6 October 2017.
On the same day, Thammakaset Co. Ltd. also filed a civil defamation suit against Sutharee Wannasiri citing the above mentioned alleged Twitter comments and demanding five million Thai Baht (more than USD 142,000) in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation.
The UN Human Rights Committee has clarified that defamation laws must ensure they do not serve, in practice, to contravene the rights to freedom of expression and information protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and enshrined under articles 34, 35 and 36 of the 2017 Constitution of Thailand. While civil penalties are appropriate to achieve a lawful aim of protection of reputation, the imposition of such penalties must be proportionate and strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose.
Thailand has an obligation under international human rights law, including the ICCPR, to protect persons against the action of businesses that impair the exercise of human rights. The U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights also clarify that business entities have a responsibility to uphold human rights. In August 2018, Thailand launched a revised draft National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in order to implement the U.N. Guiding Principles.
Ian Seiderman, ICJ Legal and Policy Director, email: ian.seiderman(a)icj.org
For recent ICJ advocacy on similar criminal defamation proceedings launched against labour rights defender Andy Hall, see:
For recent ICJ advocacy on the misuse of defamation laws in Thailand against human rights defenders, see:AdvocacyNewsNon-legal submissionsWeb stories