Tesco’s libel spree continues with third defamation suit

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Tesco Lotus, one of the biggest retailers in Thailand,
has filed another defamation case against a Thai columnist, following
through on a trend that has got the country’s journalists and media
on edge, reports the South-East Asian Press Alliance (Seapa).  


 Tesco’s newest case is seeking 100 million baht (around US$3.3
million) in damages from Ms. Nongnart Harnwilai, who writes a column
for Krungthep Turakit, a Thai-language business daily, and a
sisterpublication of the English-language The Nation. Ms. Nongnart
received a copy of the charges last week though Tesco Lotus
reportedly filed the civil defamation charges against her last 19
March 2008.

This is the third defamation suit filed by Tesco Lotus in Thailand
since the start of March. Earlier, the giant international retailer
filed two staggering defamation cases against a Thai columnist and a
former member of Parliament.

Tesco Lotus had sued columnist/academic Kamol Kamoltrakul and
former Thai National Legislative Assembly(NLA) member Jit Siratranont
for 100 million baht and one billion baht(around US$3.3 million and
US$33 million), respectively, after they also criticised and
questioned the aggressive expansion strategies of Tesco Lotus in
Thailand.

Meanwhile, Tesco Lotus’ mother company, the UK-based Tesco,
earlier this month also began legal proceedings against the British
newspaper The Guardian and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, for libel and
malicious falsehood. Tesco said it was taking the action over
suggestions that the company had been avoiding paying some of its
taxes.

The new charges against Ms Nongnart revolves around continuing
commentary about its expansion plans in Thailand. The columnist said
that Tesco’s aggressive expansion has disturbed the livelihood of
local residents. She concluded her column by saying that “Tesco
Lotus doesn’t love Thai people.” Tesco Lotus said in its charges
that the column defamed its reputation in Thailand.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) strongly condemns the
Tesco Lotus suits as acts of intimidation against its critics and the
press in general. As demonstrated by Tesco Lotus – and in recent
years by other civil and criminal defamation suits filed against
journalists and activists by such Thai business giants as Shin
Corporation – threats to press freedom come not only from
government and political figures, but also from powerful lobbies of
private entities. SEAPA sees the Tesco Lotus suits as harassment,
pure and simple, not only of consumer advocates and Thai civil
society actors, but of journalists and commentators in general.

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