Anti-Amnesty International drive picks up

Anti-Amnesty International drive picks up

PM's aide Seksakol ready to submit 1.2-million signature petition to security authorities

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)

An aide to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says he is preparing to submit a petition next week seeking the expulsion from the country of the human rights group Amnesty International, which ultra-royalists accuse of undermining national security.

Seksakol Atthawong, a vice-minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, said the petition opposing Amnesty’s presence in Thailand had garnered 1.2 million signatures.

The petition will be submitted to the National Security Council and the Interior Ministry within a week, Mr Seksakol said on Friday.

Ultra-royalists have accused the London-based group of stoking unrest by calling for a halt on the filing of criminal charges against people who urge reforms to the monarchy.

“This organisation destroys the security of the country, it supports groups that want to topple the monarchy, it lacks impartiality and sided with an anti-government movement that is anti-constitutional monarchy,” Mr Seksakol, a former red-shirt rabble-rouser known as “Rambo Isan”, told Reuters.

Gen Prayut in November ordered an investigation into Amnesty. He has not commented publicly on the petition.

The drive to expel Amnesty gained traction after it made comments in support of three protest leaders whose actions were deemed by the Constitutional Court as an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.

Amnesty in a statement on Friday urged the government to honour its human rights obligations.

“While we recognise that the Royal Thai Government has a duty to protect public order and national security, we continue to highlight that authorities must do so in a manner that is in accordance with international human rights law,” it said.

Youth-led protests against the Prayut government gathered pace late in 2020 and included unprecedented calls for royal reforms that triggered a crackdown by authorities.

More than 1,700 activists now face security-related charges, including at least 169 charged under the else majeste law that punishes perceived royal insults by up to 15 years in jail.

The move against Amnesty comes as the government also seeks to pass a law regulating non-profit organisations. More than 1,000 local and international groups have opposed it, saying it threatens to gut civil society. 

A controversial draft law regulating non-profit organisations could muzzle freedom of expression, experts say.

The bill has broadly defined the organisations subject to its regulations as “non-profit”, which covers not only non-governmental organisations (NGOs) but other groups of people formed to exercise their freedom of expression, noted Saree Aongsomwang, secretary-general of the Foundation for Consumers.

Organisations covered by the bill would be required by law to disclose mission statements and their sources of funding. They would be prohibited from engaging in activities vaguely defined as “detrimental to national security or social harmony”.

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