Thailand: Court sentences journalist to two years’ jail for Twitter post

A former reporter for Voice TV in Thailand was sentenced to two years’ jail by a Lopburi court on Tuesday, December 24, for tweeting about the exploitation of workers at a local poultry farm in 2017. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the Thailand court ruling and demands charges to be dropped.

Suchanee (Cloitre) Rungmuenporn. Credit: Surasak Bongkochkhajon/ Voice Online

Suchanee (Cloitre) Rungmuenporn was sued by Thammakaset Co, a poultry supplier to Thai agribusiness giant Betagro. Following the verdict, she was granted bail and will appeal the verdict. Cloitre is one of more than 20 journalists, workers and activists targeted and sued by the company in legal proceedings.

Suchanee, who worked for Voice TV at the time, posted a retweet post former Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) advisor Andy Hall in September 2017 that detailed an order by Thailand’s Supreme Court for the owners of Thammakaset to provide compensation of THB 1.7 million (USD 56,000) to 14 workers from Myanmar. Her post appeared together with a copy of the verdict by Thailand’s Appeals Court, with the word 'slavery' added to the post.

In 2016, Thammakaset sued some of its workers after they reported they had been forced to work up to 20 hours a day without a day off, for at least 40 days in a row. The workers also received below minimum wage and were not paid overtime compensation. In order to restrict the movement of the workers, the company also allegedly confiscated the workers’ identity documents. Thammakaset also sued a labor activist and two workers after they used time cards as evidence in the case against it. The company subsequently lost both cases. The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare of Thailand has already ordered Thammakaset to pay compensation amounting to THB 1.7million (USD 56,000).

Thammakaset’s lawyers filed the case against Suchanee, citing in its defence that the company had paid compensation and that the journalist’s use of the word 'slavery' caused harm and had defamed the company.

The Lopburi provincial court released Suchanee on a bail of TBH 75,000 (USD 2,500) after the sentence was handed down. Her lawyer said journalist, who is mother of an 8-month-old son, would appeal the verdict.

The IFJ said: “We strongly condemn the bullying and use of legal action as a means to by Thammakaset to silence critical reporting supported by documented evidence of its poor labour and employment practices. We look to the Appeal Court to set aside this ruling and free Suchanee Cloitre.”

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