Protest against NPO bill continues for 4th day

The protest against the new NPO bill is now in its 4th day since it occupied the street in front of the United Nations headquarters on Monday (23 May), while concerns are being raised as the police try to convince them to move to make way for an upcoming royal motorcade.

Protesters gathering on the street in front of the UN headquarters after they began occupying the area on Monday (23 May)

After the activist and NGO network People’s Movement Against the Draft Laws that Undermine Freedom of Association staged a protest on 24 March and getting no response to the petition submitted to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and Social Development and Human Security Minister Juti Krairiksh calling for the drafting process to cease, protesters gathered in front of the UN headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Road on Monday to demand that the government withdraw the bill. The network said that they will occupy the area until their demand is met.

The NPO bill has been criticized as a threat to freedom of association and giving state officials the authority to oversee, and possibly obstruct the work of a wide range of civil society organisations, since it defines NPOs as groups “that organise, in one form or another, to collectively pursue activities in society without seeking financial gain, exclusive of groups that stage ad-hoc activities of benefit to group members or political parties.”

The bill also gives state officials the authority to temporarily or permanently shut down any NPO seen as violating the bill’s provisions, which are vaguely worded and can be widely interpreted.

Under this bill, NPOs will be required to register with the government and to comply with all Ministry of the Interior regulations. Once the law is in effect, existing organisations will have 30 days to register. Those operating an unregistered organisation face punishments of up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to 200,000 baht or both.

The bill prohibits organisations from engaging in activities that threaten national security, economic stability, foreign relations, public order, public safety and the rights and liberties of others.

It also attempts to control NPO funding, prohibiting groups from using foreign funding to pursue activities deemed inappropriate by the Ministry of the Interior. In addition, it gives state agents the authority to search NPO offices and make copies of their online communications. NPOs receiving overseas funding will need to provide authorities with bank records showing where funds are held and what purpose they serve.

Protesters flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute as they marched to Government House on Tuesday (24 May)

After requesting that a government representative come to meet them at the protest site and getting no response, on Tuesday (24 May), the protesters marched to Government House to submit their petition calling for the bill to be withdrawn and for a government representative to also sign a written agreement promising that the bill will not be presented to the Cabinet.

During the march, the protesters faced multiple police blockades. They finally arrived at Chamai Maru Chet bridge next to Government House, which was blocked by razor wire and units of crowd control police. Anucha Nakasai, Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister, then came to receive the protesters' letter stating their demands.

After speaking with Anucha and receiving no answer or commitments, the protesters returned to their camp in front of the UN, where they will continue to stay until their demands are met.

A police officer speaking to activist and protest leader Somboon Khamhang during a negotiation on Thursday (26 May)

Earlier on Thursday (26 May), police officers came to tell the protesters that there will be a royal motorcade passing through Ratchadamnoen Nok Road on its way to Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus for the university’s graduation ceremony on 27 – 29 May, and asked that the protesters move to another location for a few days. 

The protest leaders insisted that they will not be moving until their demands are met. Activist Lertsak Khamkongsak said after several negotiations with police officers that they will continue to protest, and told the police to leave and to stop taking pictures of the protesters.

The police’s action caused concerns among protesters that they will be forcibly dispersed. Lertsak, along with activists Juthamat Srihatthapadungkit and Somboon Khamhang, gave a press conference as representatives of the protesters during the afternoon. He reported that police officers have claimed that the protesters are obstructing traffic or are creating a risk of spreading Covid-19. They said that they have explained to the authorities that other groups have used the space for protest, and that traffic can still move normally through Ratchadamnoen Nok Road. The protesters also wear face masks and take Covid-19 tests, while temperature screening points have been set up around the protest site.

According to the three activists, the police’s actions, including walking around the protest site and looking at how the protesters set up their camp, raised questions about what the authorities want with them.

Juthamat said that this is not the first time they have spoken out against the NPO bill, but the cabinet is refusing to consider their demands. She said that if the police are truly concerned about the women, children, and older people at the protest, they should be facilitating the activities, not harassing the protesters. She said that the protest is peaceful and unarmed, and that they have filed a complaint with the Civil Court for a temporary injunction protecting their right to protest, which the Court will give its ruling on Friday (27 May).

Lertsak said that the police might be preparing to forcibly disperse of the protesters. He told the protesters that, if they are dispersed, they will face any police violence without weapons, and anyone who is ready to face the police to come to the tent in front of the protest site. He said that they must be on watch all night, and that it is the police’s responsibility to manage traffic, but they did not do their job and are using it as a pretext to try to get the protesters to leave. He also said that no officer has ever shown up to see whether they have proper disease control measures, but they showed up on Thursday to try to legitimize any dispersal that might take place.

Protesters dressed in kangaroo costumes gave out leaflets around the Siam shopping district

At around 17.00, several protesters dressed in kangaroo costumes went to the Siam shopping district and scattered leaflets about the need to protest against the bill near the Siam BTS station and Siam Square One shopping mall. They also stood on the Pathumwan Skywalk holding a banner saying “People’s Movement Against the Draft Laws that Undermine Freedom of Association” and gave out leaflets to passers-by.

According to the Facebook page No NPO bill, the activity is to show that the government is trying to issue a law to control all kinds of association, which would affect everyone, and to spread information about the bill, the rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly, and why the bill should be stopped.

Police officers in riot gear lining up along Ratchadamneon Nok Road. (Photo by Zee Faozee/iLaw)

iLaw reported today (27 May) that police officers in riot gears lined up along Ratchadamneon Nok road in front of the UN headquarters at around 16.00, blocking the protesters from view as a royal motorcade went by. An officer made an announcement through a sound amplifier insisting that the police will not forcibly disperse the protesters. 

After the royal motorcade has gone, Lertsak demanded that the police move to the traffic island and to line up again when the royal motorcade is returning. If not, he asked that they turn their backs to the protesters. He also told the protesters to continue their activities.

Advertisements

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: service@prachatai.com, please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”