In February 2021, the Thai Cabinet approved a draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-profit Organizations (“NPO bill”) proposed by the Office of the Council of State (OCS). The NPO bill proposed numerous restrictive regulatory approaches, including mandatory registration, the criminalization of unregistered groups, regulatory authority vested in the Interior Ministry, revocation of registration for potentially minor penalties, burdensome reporting and invasive surveillance for NPOs, and other concerning provisions. ICNL, other NGOs, and international experts submitted comments during the open hearing period on the bill in March 2021. ICNL’s “5 things to Know” briefer summarizes the February 2021 NPO bill here.
In June 2021, the Thai Cabinet subsequently released principles related to money-laundering and terrorist financing to inform the NPO bill. ICNL submitted a legal analysis of these principles to the Council of State during the July 2021 open comment period. The government also proposed restrictive free speech and ‘anti-fake news’ regulations under emergency decrees in summer 2021, and restrictive amendments to its Anti-Money Laundering Act and communicable disease regulations in fall 2021.
Following contentious protests during the same time period, the Thai Cabinet approved a new version of the NPO bill in January 2022. The new bill contains more enabling provisions than the February 2021 version, including oversight by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security instead of the Interior Ministry, fewer criminal penalties, and the removal of mandatory registration. Unfortunately, Section 20 of the bill institutes extremely broad prohibitions on NGO activities that are incompatible with international law, and other provisions require burdensome reporting and disclosures. ICNL prepared legal analyses of the January 2022 NPO bill, which it will submit during the February open comment period, and remains engaged with policymakers on ways to improve the draft bill.