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September 02, 2014

British Labor Rights Activist on Trial in Thailand for Defamation

by VOA News

The defamation trial began Tuesday for a British activist who wrote about alleged widespread labor abuses at one of Thailand's biggest fruit companies.

Andy Hall co-authored a report saying migrant workers were subjected to forced labor, child labor, low wages and long hours at a factory belonging to Natural Fruit.

Hall later gave an interview explaining the alleged abuses with Al-Jazeera television, which became the basis of the criminal suit Natural Fruit brought against him.

As he entered the Bangkok court Tuesday, Hall told reporters the case is meant to silence him and deflect attention away from poor labor conditions. 

"This is about persecution. It's a political case to try to silence me and to get me to leave the country. That is the intention behind this case. And I'm someone who is revealing things that the government and industry don't want [me] to reveal," said Hall.

In addition to the defamation suit, Hall faces other criminal charges that could land him in jail for up to seven years. Natural Fruit is also seeking $10 million in damages in a civil suit.

Natural Fruit, which denies the allegations of abuse, is a major supplier of processed pineapple to Western countries. Its owner is the brother of the general secretary of the royalist Democrat Party.

Phil Robertson with Human Rights Watch slammed the case against Hall, saying it could have a "chilling effect" on those who want to write about labor rights violations in Thailand.