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Human rights defenders gather in the wake of new NPO bill

Photo: Luke Duggleby/HaRDstories
Photo: Luke Duggleby/HaRDstories

On 24 May 2022, a network of civil society groups, members of the People’s Movement Against the Draft Laws that Undermine Freedom of Association, took to the streets of Bangkok to protest a draft law on the regulation of non-profit organisations. 

The protesters are concerned that the proposed Non-Profit Organisations (NPO) Bill will undermine citizens’ rights and enable the government to shut down the activities of civil society groups. First agreed in principle by the Thai Cabinet in 2021, the draft is currently in the public hearing process and will be later passed to Parliament. 

Breaking through police lines, the colourful protest group marched to the Government House to demand a response from the government. Anucha Nakasai, minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, came out to receive the letter from the movement’s representatives asking for the issue to be discussed in a Cabinet meeting. Later in the afternoon, the Cabinet concluded that the draft Bill was still in the public hearing process, so the protesters should not be concerned. It was also suggested to set up a committee for further discussion about the issue. 

Having experienced ineffective committees, the protesters announced to continue the protest until there was more concrete action to abolish the Bill. They moved back to the nearby United Nations office to set up an overnight camp. In February, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand, Gita Sabharwal, hosted a discussion with Thai civil society groups about the NPO Bill. 

“We’ve come together to fight against the mine in our hometown for a decade. If people can’t gather and show solidarity, there is no way we can resist big investors who violate our rights,” said Porntip Sahyomchai, a 52-years old women human rights defender from Wang Saphung, a community in northeastern Thailand that struggles with the aftermath of gold mining in their area. 

Her community has been fighting in several court cases to hold the polluter accountable. They managed to shut down the mine before the government ordered to close all gold mines in the country in 2017. Now they propose an ecosystem restoration plan designed by the community. However, officials have rejected their efforts.

“We have tried so much, but the government still don’t see us. If this Bill actually came in effect, how can we bargain with the state? Won’t they violate our rights again?” Pornthip said. “Ordinary people who struggle to help the public will suffer more. The Bill will limit their freedom. That’s why we have to protest!”