Today, the ICJ condemned Thammakaset Co., Ltd’s use of the criminal defamation provisions of the Thai Criminal Code to harass former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.
“This action by Thammakaset is a textbook case of how defamation laws are used in Thailand to silence human rights defenders. It is clearly without any legitimate basis, and intended to harass and intimidate Khun Angkhana, who is a leading champion of human rights in Thailand and the region,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director. “We hope that the Courts will dismiss this frivolous case at first opportunity.”
On 25 October 2019, Thammakaset Co. Ltd., a poultry farm in Lopburi Province, filed a criminal defamation suit under sections 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code against Angkhana Neelapaijit for two posts she shared that contained links to press statements of 16 organizations, including the ICJ, and Fortify Rights.
The statements cited in the warrant as the basis for the action were a post on 3 December 2018 in which Angkhana Neelapaijit re-tweeted an ICJ link to a joint statement co-signed by 16 organizations, including the ICJ. The statement contained a link to a short film in which former employees spoke out about alleged labor abuses; and a post on 28 June 2019 which included a link to a Fortify Rights’ news release containing the same link. The film refers to a previous defamation complaint brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers, and called upon the authorities to drop criminal defamation charges against them and decriminalize defamation in Thailand. Thammakaset claimed that the film was defamatory.
Criminal defamation, under sections 326 of the Criminal Code, carries a maximum sentence of one year of imprisonment, a fine of up to 20,000 Baht (approx. USD 640) or both. Section 328 criminalizes defamation “by means of publication” with up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (approx. USD 6,400).
Thailand is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The UN Human Rights Committee, the supervisory body that provides the authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR, has called on States that criminalize defamation to abolish criminal defamation laws and reserve defamation for civil liability.
“The criminal defamation provisions in the Criminal Code have been repeatedly invoked for nefarious ends, such to target persons seeking to bring public attention to human rights violations, including by business enterprises. They need to be removed from the Criminal Code as a matter of urgency,” said Rawski. “The imposition of criminal penalties for speech, even allegedly defamatory speech, is disproportionate and risks having a ‘chilling effect’ on the exercise of freedom of expression.”
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director, t: +66 64 478 1121; e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org