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The future of Amnesty International Thailand has been thrown into doubt after the government ordered a member of its Executive Board to be replaced with a Deputy Minister.

Amnesty has been at loggerheads with the administration since last year when human rights defender Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal and 3 others were elected by its members to its board.  The local district office refused to register the new board and kicked the matter up to head office. 

The decision that eventually came back rejected the 4 new board members on account of their ‘improper behaviour or lack of qualifications’ with no further explanation.  Amnesty appealed.

The Bangkok Registrar then decided, on the basis of no new evidence, that three of the new board members were in fact jolly nice people and properly qualified.  But Netiwit was still unacceptable.  Amnesty appealed again, this time to the Minister of Interior, Gen Anupong Paochinda, last seen in a coup near you.

After 9 months (6 months longer than the 90-day limit prescribed by law – see, it’s not just elections that they delay), an explanation of sorts emerged.  Netiwit had behaved improperly by being prosecuted by the NCPO on 4 charges of violating NCPO Orders.

That’s the NCPO that Gen Anupong was a deputy leader of.  That’s NCPO Orders as in diktats issued on nothing more than the say-so of an unelected military junta under Section 44 of the military-written Interim Constitution where the military gave the military virtually unbridled authority to do whatever the military felt like, and human rights be damned.

So Amnesty filed charges against Gen Anupong as the responsible (or more accurately, irresponsible) Minister and the Director-General of Department of Provincial Administration in his capacity as Bangkok Registrar and junta minion.

Section 29 of the current Constitution says ‘In a criminal case, the alleged offender or the defendant shall be presumed innocent.’  Article 14 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (voluntarily ratified by Thailand in 1996) says ‘Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.’  Everyone, including even people the government can’t stand the sight of, like Netiwit.  So just being charged cannot of itself constitute ‘improper behaviour’.

And then 2 of the charges against Netiwit have already been dropped by the prosecution and the other 2 come under an NCPO Order that has already been revoked, making no further prosecution possible.

Amnesty know damn well that they’re going to lose, even if they win.  By the time the verdict comes down (and I’m not holding my breath), Netiwit’s 2-year term could well be over and the intransigence of the bureaucracy has already cost the organization far too much time and money. 

But in an apparent attempt to bring the matter to a close and forestall any further exercise of democratic human rights by a democratic human rights organization (like re-electing Netiwit, for example, and restarting the whole shebang), the Bangkok Registrar now claims that the Amnesty board is technically inquorate. That means that because he himself barred elected members of the board, the board doesn’t have enough members.

To rectify this gross violation of administrative propriety, the Registrar declares that he will use unspecified emergency powers to appoint a replacement for Netiwit, and, on the advice of the Minister of Interior, he has chosen that well-known advocate of human rights… [cue drum roll]

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Chair of the National Water Resources Committee (did well with the floods in Issan, didn’t he?) pseudo-Dr Capt (revoked in the Royal Gazette in September 1998) Thamanat Prompow (multiple aliases available on request).

The nomination was justified by reference to his experience as ‘fixer’ (so he can be trusted to ‘fix’ Amnesty once and for all) and monkey-feeder.  He apparently has a long-standing but hitherto unknown interest in various aspects of human rights including Australian prison reform and the right to bigamy.

Immediately the current Amnesty board protested against the appointment. To qualify for the board, you have to have been a member of AI for at least 2 years and Thamanat has never been a member.  Netiwit was the youth representative and Thamanat is in his 50’s.  To become a member of Amnesty, you have declare your opposition to the death penalty and Thammanat seems to think that killing people is just fine.

The International Secretariat of Amnesty declared that such government interference in the composition of the board was illegal, improper and itself a violation of human rights. If the government insisted on it course of action, it would, with great regret, have to close down Amnesty International Thailand.

Minister Thamanat expressed his personal delight at his nomination and boasted of his prowess. ‘See, all they have to do is mention my name, and the whole organization just caves in.’

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