Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal may sit as a member of Amnesty International Thailand's Board of Directors, three years after his term expired, as the justifications given by the authorities to prevent him from doing so were invalid, the Administrative Court has ruled.
The Court's ruling on 17 February said that the refusal to register Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal as a member of the Amnesty's Board of Directors back in 2018 was unlawful. The authorities must now review the application for registration in compliance with the law.
The Department of Provincial Administration (DPA) and the Minister of Interior, who are responsible for the registration of associations in Bangkok, cited Netiwit's improper conduct and multiple criminal charges as reasons why he was not suitable for serving on Amnesty's Board of Directors.
However, the Court said that Netiwit's supposedly improper conduct could not justify their rejection. Despite the fact that he faced criminal charges, the principle of presumption of innocence must also be observed according to the Constitution.
The criminal charges against Netiwit turned out to be spurious, as two of them were dropped by the prosecutors and the other two were automatically nullified after the revocation of the Order of National Council for Peace and Order under which they had been brought. The military junta unilaterally issued many Orders after the coup in 2014 which observers claim were used as instruments of political repression.
Netiwit, who has now ordained as a Buddhist monk, was elected member of the Amnesty's Board of Directors and became its first Youth Board Member in July 2018, as the organisation changed its rules in 2017 to promote youth participation in its decision-making process.
The application to register him as a Board Member was rejected by the registrar together with the other three new Board Members elected at the same time. After an appeal, the authorities changed their mind about the other three, but not Netiwit. They also claimed that Amnesty's Board was inquorate, an allegation which turned out to be false.
Although the actions of the DPA and Minister of Interior caused significant disruption to the work of the Amnesty Board and affected the personal reputation of Netiwit, the ruling imposes no penalty on those responsible for the illegal decisions.
However, Piyanut Kotsan, the Director of Amnesty International Thailand, called the case "another major success to create legal precedence to uphold the right to freedom of association in Thailand" in her letter to Amnesty's members.
Netiwit's 2-year term expired in 2020. According to Amnesty's charter, he can still become a board member for a second term if elected by Amnesty's members. However, he can no longer return as Youth Board Member as he is now 27 years old, two years above the qualification for the position.