Asahi Kosei’s libel suit against Charles Hector

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Business and Human Rights Resources Centre summarises some of the major concerns in the lawsuit slapped on activist-lawyer Charles Hector by Japanese multinational corporation Asahi Kosei.

In February 2011 the Malaysian subsidiary of Japanese machine parts manufacturer, Asahi Kosei, sued Malaysian labour activist Charles Hector for defamation for statements the activist had posted on his blog and Twitter page regarding the plight of Burmese workers at the company’s factory.

The trial had been set for 28-29 June. In the intervening period a number of NGOs criticised the company calling upon it to drop the lawsuit and address the concerns that Hector raised.

On 23 June, Human Rights Watch issued a statement about the case, which was reported by the Associated Press. That article states that Asahi Kosei was invited to comment, but declined:

Company chastised for suing Malaysia rights lawyer
Sean Yoong, AP, 23 Jun 2011

…The Malaysian subsidiary of Japanese machine components maker Asahi Kosei has sued Charles Hector for defamation and is demanding…$3.3 million…in damages. Hector alleged on his blog in February that 31 Myanmarese factory workers for the company had experienced unlawful salary deductions and were threatened with deportation…Human Rights Watch complained about the large sum the company is seeking, saying it could ‘intimidate labour and human rights defenders all over Malaysia.’…Asahi Kosei’s representatives in Malaysia declined to comment, saying they want to wait for the High Court in Malaysia’s central Selangor state to hear the case. The company contends it was not responsible for the workers because they were supplied by an employment agency and were not under the company’s direct payroll at its factory on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The company also said in its lawsuit that it was not aware of any attempted deportation of the workers…

On 27 June, the eve of the opening of the trial, the NGO Article XIX made this plea to the Malaysian Court to consider Hector’s rights to freedom of expression:

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Malaysian Blogger Defamation Case:  Cause for Concern
Agnes Callamard, Article XIX, 27 Jun 2011

Ahead of Malaysia human right defender and blogger Charles Hector’s defamation trial on 28-29 June 2011, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian Court to consider the case in line with international freedom of expression standards. Given the fundamental importance of the right to freedom of expression, and its recognition in Article 10 of the Malaysian Constitution, ARTICLE 19 urges the Court to ensure that Malaysian defamation law is interpreted, to the extent possible, in a manner that respects Hector’s freedom of expression…

The following is a selection of earlier NGO criticism of the company:

International Campaign for Responsible Technology concerned by Asahi Kosei
Ted Smith, Coordinator, International Campaign for Responsible Electronics, 24 Mar 2011

To: Asahi Kosei Japan Co. Ltd… I am writing to you regarding the flagrant human rights violations undertaken by Asahi Kosei against Malaysian labour activist Charles Hector…Before any posting [by Hector regarding the situation of the Burmese workers], an email was sent to the company for clarification/verification, which contained also these words, “If there is anything that you would like to correct, kindly revert to me immediately. An urgent response would be appreciated. Failing to hear from you, I would take it that the allegations of the workers are true.” The company did not respond, and subsequently commenced a legal suit six days later. The punitive lawsuit…accentuates the harsh reality of Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia…It is a matter of public interest to ensure the grievances of any persons whose human rights have been violated are heard. Without it, there is no access to justice…I would appreciate a reply acknowledging receipt of this letter…Sincerely, Ted Smith…

Malaysian Bar unanimously supports rights defender sued by Asahi Kosei
Aliran, 19 Apr 2011

 …the Malaysian Bar unanimously carried a motion in support of human rights defender Charles Hector….In the motion, the Malaysian Bar refers to… the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders…The Bar also references Malaysian law…The motion states that public interest places an obligation on any person that knows of any human rights violations to not just stand by but to take the necessary steps to see that such violations end, and to ensure that the victims do get justice. The Bar declares that ‘…it is best that the company does not continue to go after the ‘whistle blower’ but rather to commence the necessary investigations and…ensure that all rights of workers that work in the company are not violated, and justice is upheld’… [Includes full text of the motion]

Stop legal action against Malaysian human rights lawyer and bloggerFORUM-Asia, 27 Apr 2011

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) received information regarding a law suit being filed against Mr. Charles Hector Fernandez, a Malaysian human rights lawyer, activist and blogger over defamation… FORUM-ASIA believes that Mr. Charles Hector merely highlighted on his blog complaints of the 31 Burmese migrant workers and the allegation that they were paid far less than what was promised. Mr. Hector acted on behalf of the workers who are not familiar with their rights in Malaysia and helped them in lodging a complaint with Suhakam, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia…The defamation charges and the lawsuit filed against Charles Hector hinder him in his work as a human rights defender, advocating the rights of the 31 Burmese migrant workers. Rather than investigating and ensuring that workers’ rights are protected, Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd. chose to sue the person who highlighted these violations…

From http://www.business-humanrights.org/Documents/asahikoseilibelsuit

None of the companies involved has done the right thing; please take action by signing the petition here:

Petition 1

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and here:

Petition 2

The full trial is fixed for 24-26 August 2011.

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