Tesco has defended its decision to take legal action to silence critics in Thailand amid accusations in the UK that the retailer has resorted to “chilling tactics”.

“It is very regrettable that we have had to take legal action in Thailand,” a spokesperson for the company told just-food.

“We had hoped that the individuals concerned would apologise for the false and highly damaging allegations they had made about our business over a sustained period of time but despite numerous attempts to get them to set the record straight, this has not happened.”

The supermarket group accused a Thai business leader and former MP of criminal liable after he made a speech that decried Tesco’s expansion. If the supermarket is successful he could face a jail term.

Tesco Lotus, the 99% owned Tesco subsidiary, is also pursuing a civil action against Kamol Kamoltrakul for damages of GBP1.6m. Kamol is a freelance journalist who earned GBP16 for his column in which he criticised the supermarket.

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A second journalist, Nongnart Harnvilai, is also being sued after concluding an article with the words: “Ha, Tesco Lotus doesn’t love Thais.”

However, Tesco told just-food that it hoped that the situation would be resolved before it went to court.

“These cases are framed in a way appropriate under Thai law but what we want is an apology and a retraction of claims which were false, damaging to our reputation and misleading to our Thai customers and staff,” Tesco said. “We are still hopeful that these apologies will be forthcoming and that the matters can be resolved by agreement, without the need to resort to the courts.”

Tesco has come under heavy fire in the UK for employing such draconian measures to silence its critics. English PEN, a campaign group for freedom of expression, has targeted the retailer and leading authors, including Nick Hornby and Mark Haddon, have been vocal in their opposition.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, the British authors said that the supermarket’s action “sends a deeply chilling message to others who seek, quite legitimately, to discuss Tesco’s impact on their local economy”.