Amnesty's fate hangs in balance

Amnesty's fate hangs in balance

Labour Ministry mulls bid to renew operating licence

Activists are joined by lion dancers as they march along Silom Road seeking support to ban Amnesty International Thailand in November last year. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Activists are joined by lion dancers as they march along Silom Road seeking support to ban Amnesty International Thailand in November last year. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The Labour Ministry says it is considering whether to refuse Amnesty International Thailand a new operating licence after determining the rights group had failed to comply with certain legal requirements.

Boonchob Suthamanaswong, the permanent secretary, on Tuesday said Amnesty International Thailand had submitted a renewal application with the ministry following the expiry of the old licence on Jan 20. Licence renewals take place every two years. The request will be looked at by a ministry panel tasked with enforcing regulations regarding operating licences granted to international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The panel's job is to ensure NGOs comply with Labour Ministry regulations.

A decision to grant or renew a licence depends on certain criteria, including the organisation not working for profit or being driven by a political agenda that threatens national security, Mr Boonchob said.

Mr Boonchob said the ministry's Employment Department has informed the rights group about legal requirements that international NGOs must meet to function in Thailand.

They must take a neutral stance on political issues and avoid acts that could lead to social unrest, he added.

The organisation is required to submit a report about its activities every six months, but has allegedly failed to do so.

Amnesty was also recently accused of openly supporting three protest leaders whose actions were deemed by the Constitutional Court as an attempt to overthrow the democratic system with the King as head of state.

"The panel will also consider whether the organisation's activities affected the public's faith in the Constitutional Court, judicial process, laws and the country's image," said Mr Boonchob.

Critics want it kicked out of the country. Amnesty is accused of stoking unrest by suggesting that criminal charges against people urging reforms to the monarchy should not proceed.

In a Facebook post, Somkiat Osotsapa, a former economics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said the organisation has technically been closed for two years for its alleged failure to file an activity report every six months.

An aide to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said earlier that he was preparing to submit a petition this week seeking the expulsion from the country of Amnesty, which ultra-royalists accuse of undermining national security.

The petition opposing Amnesty’s presence had attracted 1.2 million signatures, said Seksakol Atthawong, a former red shirt known as “Rambo Isan”, now a vice-minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Mr Seksakol also fronts a new political party called Ruam Thai Sang Chart, which has pledged to propose Gen Prayut as prime minister in the next election.

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