Freelancer backed in fight with Tesco

A freelance journalist in Thailand has won the backing of the UK’s top novelists as he faces bankruptcy in what they say is a “chilling” libel suit being brought by Tesco.

Kamol Kamoltrakul, a freelance columnist, is being sued for a cool £1.6million by the supermarket for alleging its Thai arm –Tesco Lotus – tried to shrink its tax liabilities.

His published comment, for which he earned just £16, is seen by the retailer as part of a wider, sustained and unjustified attack on its reputation.

To this end, another journalist – Nongnart Harnvilai – also faces a £1.6m libel action, for her tongue-in-cheek concluding comment that Tesco did not “love” Thailand.

“The scale of Tesco Lotus’s response seems grossly disproportionate,” seven top UK authors, including Nick Hornby and Joanne Harris, blasted in a letter to Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy.

“To seek damages of £1.6m…, we believe, sends a deeply chilling message to others who seek, quite legitimately, to discuss Tesco’s impact on their local economy.

But the letter, written on the authors’ behalf by campaigner English Pen, states there is another and potentially much bigger victim of criticising Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket.

Former Thai MP Jit Siratranont is facing up to two years in jail over his allegations that Tesco’s expansion in certain areas is serving to muscle out smaller local retailers.

Like the two journalists, Mr Siratranont faces a civil libel; albeit one that seeks a whopping £16.4million in damages.

He has also been served a writ for criminal defamation under section 328 of the Thai penal code.

If Tesco is successful the ex-MP will be jailed and presumably made bankrupt. The two journalists face certain bankruptcy.

“These civil claims pale into insignificance beside the charge of criminal defamation…. which has been brought against Jit Siratranont,” the authors told Leahy.

“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 Thailand is a party.

“We note in your corporate responsibility policy that ‘Tesco is committed to upholding basic Human Rights and supports in full the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’ However, international human rights bodies are agreed that the offence of criminal defamation does not comply with basic standards of human rights.”

Since the letter, Tesco has publicly stated that the filing of legal writs against the three individuals was regrettable. It said “numerous attempts” by Tesco to get them to “set the record straight” had failed. It also wants each individual to apologise.

“We are still hopeful that these apologies will be forthcoming,” a company spokesman told the Guardian. “The matters can be resolved by agreements, without the need to resort to the courts.”


1st May 2008

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