On 26 November 2007, Tesco Lotus, a subsidiary of the British-based company, Tesco PLC, brought charges of criminal defamation against Jit Siratranont, a former MP and Vice Chair of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, who had criticised Tesco Lotus’s policy of expansion in Thailand. This move concerned English PEN, which agrees with all international human rights watchdogs that the offence of criminal defamation is not compatible with the fundamental right to freedom of expression, as set out in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a signatory. When Tesco Lotus brought further actions for civil defamation against two journalists, a group of leading authors called on Sir Terry Leahy, Chief Executive of Tesco PLC, to fulfil his company’s stated commitment to human rights, and support free speech in Thailand. English PEN received this response. Our original letter is shown below. For more information, see this coverage in The Times; and The Guardian.
6-8 Amwell Street
Dear Ms Appignanesi
I appreciate the concerns that you and your fellow writers have raised about the actions being taken by our Tesco Lotus business in Thailand but I believe that you have not been given an accurate account of the highly damaging and misleading allegations made against us or the lengths we went to to deal with the matter before involving the courts.
It is of course very regrettable that we have had to take legal action but these were not one-off remarks that we suddenly decided to act upon. We faced a sustained campaign of deliberate misinformation going back over many months which was very clearly damaging to our business and misleading to our Thai customers and staff.
We tried time and time again to engage and use ‘the force of argument’ as you describe it but this did not stop the campaign against us continuing. Whilst we fully support freedom of speech wherever we operate in the world, that freedom must come with the responsibility of truthfulness and does not provide the right to defame a company for simply going about its business.
These cases are framed in a way appropriate under Thai law but I can assure you that what we want is simply an apology and a retraction of claims which were false, damaging and misleading. We are still hopeful that these apologies will be forthcoming and that the matters can be resolved by agreement, without the need to resort to the courts.
Sir Terry Leahy
Below is the original letter sent by English PEN to Sir Terry Leahy on 28 April 2008.
Sir Terry Leahy
Tesco Stores Ltd.
New Tesco House
Dear Sir Terry,
Freedom of Speech
We are writing to express our concern over the recent libel actions served by Tesco Lotus in Thailand against three critics of the store’s policy in that country – Jit Siratranont, Kamol Kamoltrakul and Nongnart Harnwilai. We understand that Tesco Lotus has been faced with considerable criticism in
However, these civil claims pale into insignificance beside the charge of criminal defamation – section 328 of the Thai penal code – which has been brought against Jit Siratranont. This charge carries a maximum two-year prison sentence. The Asian Human Rights Commission recommended the repeal of this archaic law in 2004, noting its failure to comply with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which
The European Court of Human Rights has stressed that sanctions for defamation must always be proportionate to the gravity of the defamatory remarks in question. The Court has consistently held that imprisonment is a disproportionate response to defamation. Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, and the other international mandates for promoting freedom of expression – the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression – have repeatedly called on states to repeal their criminal defamation laws.
As writers and members of the writers’ association, English PEN, we greatly value the tradition of free speech in
In 2007, International PEN monitored the cases of more than one thousand writers who were persecuted because of their writing. Many of these writers were targeted as a result of their outspoken criticism of governments and corporations. At English PEN, we are hampered in our support for such writers of conscience whenever governments and corporations in the west endorse repressive laws such as criminal defamation.
In conclusion, we urge you to drop all actions in
We would be happy to discuss this difficult situation with you in greater detail.
Lisa Appignanesi, President, English PEN
Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/news/_1646