Draft law on non-profits would “block activities beneficial to society”, group says

Thailand’s draft law on non-profit organizations would give the government excessive and arbitrary control over human rights work and other activities in the country, according to statements by activist groups this week.

“Thailand should scrap proposed law on nonprofit orgs,” the secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) wrote on social media Thursday.

Sam Zafiri said the draft legislation “would allow Thai government to arbitrarily decide who can speak out for human rights and to shut down or criminalize those it does not like.”

The Draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations was proposed by the Office of the Council of State and approved in principle by the cabinet in February.

It went through the public consultation process between March 12 and 31, which was cricitized as “a considerably tight period of time,” by an ICJ statement on Wednesday.

The draft is currently being legally reviewed by the Council of State before a resubmission to the cabinet and then on to the parliament.

If passed into law, the conditions on non-profits operating in Thailand, including human rights groups, would constitute “discriminatory restrictions” on organizations that receive foreign funding, the statement read.

It would provide “abusive and arbitrary” powers to government authorities to monitor activities, and to search and seize electronic data of non-profits without a court warrant, it added.

Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s legal and policy director, wrote that any registration of non-profits should be voluntary and that no law should delegitimize activities that defend human rights on account of the origin of funding.

Piroj Paraphet, an adviser to the Union for Civil Liberty, a local human rights and legal consultant non-governmental organization (NGO), told Thai Enquirer on Friday that the draft had not respected protocol.

“The direct instruction from the PM was unconstitutional because it did not pass through a public hearing and no assessment report in term of its impacts was made and this was already the first thing that is wrong with this draft law, its initial process was wrong,” he said.

He said the law could end up covering a vast number of organizations, including the local non-registered ones, giving the Ministry of Interior full control over what they can and cannot do.

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were around 27,000 NGOs in Thailand in 2017.

If the draft makes it into law, organizations that fail to comply “would risk having their registration revoked and could face a jail sentence of up to five years or fine no more than 100,000 baht or both,” he said.

“This could block a vast amount of activities beneficial to society, while the punishment is disproportionate,” he added.

He said the Ministry of Interior’s power to search and seize electronic data without a court order is also against the privacy provisions of the constitution.

“The state officials will have the power to control NPOs’ activities, how they received foreign funding and they will be registered and if they do not abide by these conditions then they will be prosecuted as criminals,” he said.

Piroj also raised the risk of the Interior Ministry deciding that no public participation is necessary or even permitted for this legislation.

Other activities such as the campaign to amend the lese-majeste law and the campaign to release political prisoners also risk being ruled illegal, he said.

Thai Pakdee, an ultra-royalist group, last year accused NGOs supporting the current pro-democracy movement of being funded by George Soros and the US government to topple the royal institution in Thailand. No evidence of such a conspiracy theory has been provided.    

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