Thailand’s Office of the Council of State is considering a Draft Act aimed to regulate non-profit groups operating in the country, but several international organizations said the law would strike a severe blow to human rights in the country.
The bill is the latest effort by the Thai government to pass repressive legislation to muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), rights groups said on Friday.
“This draft law poses an existential threat to both established human rights organizations and grassroots community groups alike,” said Maria Chin Abdullah, member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP).
“If enacted, this law would strike a severe blow to human rights by giving the government the arbitrary power to ban groups and criminalize individuals it doesn’t like”.
According to the Draft Act (in Section 3), the government would have wide discretion as to which organizations will be exempted from the application of the law.
The Draft Act (in Section 4) also uses an overbroad definition of not-for-profit organizations (NPO), which has left it open to abusive and arbitrary application by the authorities.
The broad terms of the Draft Act would allow unequal treatment of certain disfavoured groups and carry dire consequences for associations critical of the government, with little scope to legally challenge government decisions.
“This draft blatantly breaches Thailand’s own constitution and its human rights obligations. A thriving, independent and free civil society is an essential component of a rights-respecting, open society,” said Brad Adams, Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.
“The draft law’s broad terms could be applied against virtually any group, no matter how small or informal,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Senior Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19.
“If passed in its current form, the draft law will likely cause entire sectors of Thai civil society to collapse or take their activities underground.”
“Those found in breach of this law’s many faulty provisions risk lengthy prison sentences. Targeted NGOs could have their very existence extinguished at the whim of governmental authorities – enabling the silencing of critical and independent voices in Thailand,” said Ian Seiderman, Legal and Policy Director at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
By making the registration of an NPO mandatory (in Section 5) and rendering any unregistered group illegal, the Draft Act would violate the right to freedom of association and severely impede the work of groups that defend and promote human rights.
Notably, under the proposed law (in Section 10), anyone found to belong to an unregistered association that operates within Thailand could be jailed for up to five years, fined up to 100,000 THB (approx. 3,200 USD), or both. This would effectively criminalize people solely for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association.
“Around the world, bogus claims regarding foreign funding for NGOs are constantly used by repressive governments to distract from their own human rights record and to stigmatize and fuel paranoia regarding those who speak truth to power – often simply because they are critical of the government,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, FORUM-ASIA’s Executive Director.
“Now Thailand seems to want to follow suit, adding itself to an unwelcome list of rights-abusing governments trying to control or severely limit NGO funding.” (Source: Amnesty Intl.)