Company chastised for suing Malaysia rights lawyerBy SEAN YOONG , 06.23.11, 05:33 AM EDT
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A company's multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a rights lawyer who complained about how it treated migrant workers in Malaysia could scare activists across the country into silence, an international rights group warned Thursday.
The Malaysian subsidiary of Japanese machine components maker Asahi Kosei has sued Charles Hector for defamation and is demanding 10 million ringgit ($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.
Hearings are scheduled to begin June 28.
Human Rights Watch complained about the large sum the company is seeking, saying it could "intimidate labor and human rights defenders all over Malaysia."
"A company's right to protect its reputation should not become a way to cut off important discussions of matters of public concern," the New York-based group said in a statement.
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.
Activists have long voiced concerns about the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers who mainly have menial jobs in Malaysian factories, plantations, construction sites and restaurants. Most are from poorer countries in Asia such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
"Migrant workers frequently receive low wages, suffer from dirty and dangerous working conditions, and are prohibited from changing employers," Human Rights Watch said.
Asahi Kosei did not appear to dispute Hector's claim of rights abuses involving the workers but asserted he was wrong about the company's relationship with the workers, Human Rights Watch said.
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.
The Malaysian Bar Council, which comprises thousands of lawyers, expressed support earlier this year for Hector, saying Asahi Kosei's lawsuit was "a deplorable and coercive act." - Forbes.com, 23/6/2011, Company chastised for suing Malaysia rights lawyer