Protesters from over 67 civil society organisations (CSOs), who have been demonstrating at Ratchadamnoen Road for the past 8 days, announced that they have met their immediate objective in communicating with society and pressuring the government to refrain from adopting a Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-profit Organisations.
Protesters gather on the street in front of the UN headquarters after they began occupying the area on 23 May.
A 30 May post on the “No NPO Bill” Facebook page stated that as the cabinet has yet to take the bill under serious consideration, the protesters will disband for now. It also stated that the rallies will resume if the draft is pushed forward.
In the meantime, they will continue to inform the public of the threat posed by the bill to all kinds of civic groups and associations.
On 23 May, the protesters set up a camp on Ratchadamnoen Road in front of the United Nations Headquarters to demand that the cabinet agree to shelve the draft and work instead to guarantee that no one else is persecuted or victimised for exercising their rights to peaceful expression and assembly.
Over the past 8 days, the protesters staged a number of activities, including a public panel with representatives from political parties to raise concern over the NPO bill. The protesters also marched several kilometres to Government House, but were blocked from approaching the site by police officers and a shipping container barricade.
Protesters dressed in kangaroo costumes gave out leaflets around the Siam shopping district.
On the morning of 30 May, Teerapat Prayoonsit, permanent secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, came out to receive a petition from the protesters. He reportedly passed the petition on to Anucha Nakasai, a PM Office minister, who promised to bring it to the attention of the cabinet.
Teerapat stated that the cabinet was divided on the issue and that some shared protesters’ concerns. He added that the matter would be discussed further by responsible authorities, that the draft was still in the preliminary hearing stage and that there was no push to pass the draft into law.
The NPO bill has been criticised as a threat to freedom of association. If adopted, it will give 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.