Debate continues in Thailand over new NGO law

PHOTO: New law may label many organizations as NGOs required to follow strict rules.

With a new draft law to allow closer government scrutiny of NGO funding and activities, Thailand has been tightening its grip on non-governmental organisations operating within their borders. There’s much debate over whether these restrictions are an effort to limit foreign influence and act in the interest of national security, or an attempt to silence critics of Thailand’s government.

Amnesty International has observed in their 2020-2021 annual report that NGO legislation aiming to restrict or limit these organisations’ effectiveness has been seen in Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, and Russia in recent years.

But a spokesperson for Thailand’s government said that the goal of this law was just to ensure that money received by NGOs in Thailand is put to use correctly and that objectives are truly for the public benefit. Many of the approximately 100 NGOs operating currently in Thailand receive overseas fundings, and not all of them offer up information about where this funding comes from. The government says the stricter regulations are designed for national security and to limit foreign intervention politically or financially into local Thai matters.

This assertion comes with allegations that organisations with ties to the American CIA may be growing their influence in Thai politics. A Khon Kaen University academic recently lost his visa and work permit after being accused of links to anti-government protesters and the CIA, charges which he denies.

The Bill on the Operations of Not-For-Profit Organisations was originally approved by the Thai Cabinet in late February and requires stricter reporting by NGOs regarding how much money they are receiving and from who. The bill would allow the government to audit their accounts and investigate the legality of their actions. The review on this law is almost completed and it’s expected to go to Parliament for approval by the end of this month.

Those opposed to this new bill believe that it gives the Thai government authority to harass activists and civil society groups that speak out against the government by broadly categorising them under the NGO title. They believe that the definition is purposely broad in order to require many groups in Thailand to register as an NGO and follow these strict requirements. Penalties for violating these restrictions can be up to 5 years in jail or 100,000 baht in fines. This punishment was labelled as disproportionate by an advisor from the Union for Civil Liberty, saying that this move could essentially scare off organisations that were working to benefit society.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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