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Tesco’s billion-baht defamation suits threaten free speech in Thailand

TESCO Lotus, one of the biggest retailers in Thailand, has filed two staggering defamation cases against a Thai columnist and a former member of Parliament, sending a strong message to civil society and the press to tread carefully before criticizing the retailing giant in Thailand.

Tesco Lotus is suing columnist/academic Kamol Kamoltrakul and former Thai National Legislative Assembly (NLA) member Jit Siratranont for 100 million baht and one billion baht, respectively, after they criticized and questioned the aggressive expansion strategies of Tesco Lotus in Thailand.

Siratranont, currently the secretary general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, was quoted by British newspaper “The Observer” as saying in a speech to 150 activists: “The large-scale expansion of the big retailers must be exercised with great care — not too aggressively and too rapidly — to reduce the potential tension, which could lead to serious conflict. There is also the need for the small retail traders to adjust to changes. Tesco Lotus must take all of this into account.”

Kamol was sued for an article published in the Thai-language “KrungThepTurakit” (BangkokBizNews), which expressed generally the same concerns about Tesco Lotus’ aggressiveness, and also what the columnist suggested was the retailing giant’s weak social responsibility in Thailand.

Both Siratranont and Kamol acknowledged erroneously saying that Tesco Lotus’ Thailand operations accounted for as much as 37 percent of the UK-based Tesco’s global revenue, but stressed that this did not detract from the main message of their concerns — concerns which, in any case, were of legitimate public interest in Thailand.

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March 20, 2008 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 4 Comments