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Thailand: NGOs oppose draft law that would place civil society organisations under govt control

"NGOs Seek US Help to Persuade Thailand to Drop Bill Regulating Non-Profits", 18 June 2021

Dozens of concerned NGOs are asking the U.S. government to lobby Thailand to drop a draft law they say would effectively place civil society under government control, and deal a blow to the fight against human trafficking.

In a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week, 41 NGOs aired their concerns and asked for his agency’s intervention to persuade the Thai government to withdraw the so-called Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations, which the cabinet has approved.

If enacted into law, the bill to regulate Non-Governmental Organizations operating in Thailand would allow the authorities to inspect their offices and seize communications, among other measures, according to the NGOs.

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The letter lists five key concerns about the bill: the government would have broad discretion to deny registration arbitrarily and would be able set criminal penalties; it would also allow restrictions on foreign funding and give the government intrusive supervisory power, while limiting free speech, the NGOs said.

“The bill permits the authorities to enter the offices of not-for-profit organizations for inspection and to obtain electronic communications, which could be used for intimidation. This also threatens to violate the privacy protections of trafficking victims or their families, as they may appear in confidential files kept by the organizations that support them,” the letter said under a section about intrusive powers.

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“By effectively placing Thai civil society under the control of government officials, the draft law would have a devastating impact on the country’s already deficient efforts at combatting human trafficking,” the letter from the 41 NGOs said.

The letter urged the U.S. State Department, “in particular the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office), to strongly advocate for the Thai government to withdraw this bill.”

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