Amnesty International under pressure to stop Thailand operations

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Amnesty International is under increased pressure in Thailand after it criticised legal cases filed against monarchy reform protesters. Ultra royalists accuse the human rights group of threatening national security and interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Attacks against its operations in Thailand were taking place against a backdrop of “growing intolerance for human rights discourse” among the country’s authorities, and warned of a clampdown on civil society groups, said Amnesty International.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered an investigation into the NGO in November last year, while royalist groups have organised petitions calling for it to be expelled from the country.

On Thursday morning, a small group of protesters gathered outside the Ministry of Interior, holding signs that said “Get out from Thailand”, and submitted a letter calling for an end to Amnesty’s presence in the country, according to footage broadcast on online news.

Seksakol Atthawong, a vice minister in Prayuth’s office, who has organised a petition against the NGO, said last week that it had attracted 1.2m signatures.

Amnesty has provoked the anger of royalist groups by condemning court judgments against young protesters who led mass rallies calling for curbs to be placed on the wealth and influence of the royal family. Prior to the protests, which peaked in 2020, the royal family had long been considered beyond direct public criticism. It is also protected by a lese majesty law that states anyone who “defames, insults or threatens” the monarchy can face up to 15 years in prison.

At least 1,767 people, including hundreds of children aged under 18, have been charged under various laws for expressing political opinions or taking part in rallies, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

In November, the constitutional court ruled that the protesters’ calls for reform amounted to attempts to overthrow the monarchy – a judgment that Amnesty said was “a dangerous warning to hundreds of thousands of Thais who want to express their opinions or legitimate criticisms”.

Alongside petitions against Amnesty, NGOs have also raised concerns over a proposed law that aims to regulate non-profits in Thailand. It is widely opposed by civil society groups who warn that its terms are vague, overly broad and could easily be misused.

Amnesty said it could have “severe consequences” for all NGOs in Thailand.

“The targeting of Amnesty is taking place against a backdrop of a growing intolerance for human rights discourse among Thai authorities,” Kyle Ward, Amnesty International’s deputy secretary general, said in a statement.

Ms. Ward said: “We offer constructive recommendations to authorities on steps they can take to uphold their international human rights obligations. We will continue to do this independently and impartially on the basis of facts. In response to the anti-Amnesty campaign and related investigation, we continue to answer any questions the Thai government may have about our work in the country.

“While we recognise that the royal Thai government has a duty to protect public order and national security, we continue to highlight that the authorities must do so in a manner that is in accordance with international human rights law, and that is proportionate, necessary and fulfils the government’s obligations to ensure and facilitate respect for human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” (Source: The Guardian)

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