The official decision was made at the Bangkok South Criminal Court today (Monday), where the court said it would accept the case brought by Thai prosecutors following a series of earlier hearings.
Hall is charged in connection with the report Cheap has a high price, published by non-government organization Finnwatch in 2013, which alleges serious human rights violations at Thai pineapple processor Natural Fruit Company.
The allegations include accusations of employing underage workers and the company confiscating passports from Myanmar migrant workers.
Hall, who originally comes from England but has lived in Thailand for 10 years, did not write the report, however he contributed and carried out interviews of Burmese migrant workers at the plant as a researcher for Finnwatch.
If found guilty, Hall faces seven years in prison.
Shortly after the court’s decision today, Hall tweeted pictures of the official indictment papers.
He was ordered to return to the court on October 19 when he will be arraigned and detained while bail requirements are met.
Last week, www.freshfruitportal.com spoke with Finnwatch executive director Sonja Vartiala, who pledged the continued support of Hall, despite the Finnish government slashing the NGOs budget by €49 million (US$56.2 million).
Vartiala has reacted to today’s court ruling in a release issued by Finnwatch.
“The Bangkok South Criminal Court had an opportunity to put an end to a saga of intimidation already lasting 30-months aimed at nothing but gagging a human rights defender,” she says.
“Regrettably the court chose instead to press on with a trial of these unfounded charges. To equate someone’s reputation with another person’s liberty is always disproportionate.
“Thailand should abolish its criminal defamation laws as they infringe on freedom of expression. At this point, the prospects for Andy Hall to receive a fair trial are looking grim.”
There is widespread international support for Hall who is also being backed by several international human rights groups and labor organizations, including the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) which previously signed a petition calling for all charges to be dropped.
In a statement sent to www.freshfruitportal.com, TUC head of international relations, Owen Tudor, calls today’s Thai court decision bad news for human rights and vows to step up the campaign to support the British activist.
”The decision by the Thai court’s today to commit Andy Hall for trial on criminal defamation charges, while expected, is bad news for freedom of speech, human rights and the migrant workers whose abuse in the pineapple processing industry Andy helped uncover,” Tudor says.
”Unions globally, as well as in Britain where Andy grew up and Thailand where he now works, will step up our campaign to get the Thai government to prevent their courts being used to harass and intimidate those trying to secure justice for migrant workers.
“We will be working with human rights and development NGOs to raise the issue in the British and European Parliaments so that Thailand’s government and employers realize they cannot allow this state of affairs to continue.”
Natural Fruit has filed four cases against Andy Hall following the publication and dissemination of the Finnwatch report.
Of the other three cases, one is for criminal defamation and two are civil defamation with Natural Fruit claiming millions of dollars in damages.
According to Finnwatch, Prakanong Court heard the first criminal defamation in 2014 but the hearings were marred because of the prosecutions failure to fully disclose all evidence to the defense.
The Thai authorities failure to provide critically important information to the defense when requested and witness intimidation, among other issues, subsequently led the court to dismiss the charges.
The Office of the Attorney General has appealed the decision, urging the case to be reopened. A decision of this appeal is expected on September 25, while the hearings for the civil defamation cases have not yet been scheduled.