Thailand

Last updated: 13 May 2021

Update

In 2020, ministries of the Thai government began circulating draft acts on the regulation of not-for-profit and civil society organizations. By February 2021, three different drafts had emerged: (1) a draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-profit Organisations proposed by the Office of the Council of State (OCS); (2) a draft Act on the Promotion and Development of Civil Society Organizations proposed by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS); and (3) a draft Act on the Promotion and Development of Civil Society Organizations proposed by some Thai civil society organizations.

An unofficial English translation of the Office of the Council of State’s draft not-for-profit organization (NPO) bill reveals 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. The MSDHS and civil society drafts are reportedly not as restrictive as the OCS draft. Local partners are concerned that the Council of State version will be fast-tracked for approval, potentially in the next month or two. ICNL prepared a legal analysis of the draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-profit Organisations (Bill) and submitted it to the OCS on March 30 (during the open comment period, ending March 31). Please see the Pending Legislative Initiatives section below in this report for further details.

Introduction

Civil society has deep historical roots in Thailand, going back to religious institutions and early voluntary associations. Both Buddhist and Christian institutions have played a crucial role in providing education in Thailand. Buddhist monasteries served as venues for traditional education, while modern schools were first established by Christian institutions. The oldest and best known of the Christian institutions are Bangkok Christian College and Assumption College. The Chinese also set up early voluntary associations with a philanthropic orientation. The best-known philanthropic entity, Poh Teck Tung Foundation, is now Thailand’s biggest non-governmental charitable organization.

The legal framework for Thai civil society organizations (CSOs), including philanthropic and charitable entities, was modeled, at least in part, on Western legal systems, and particularly on the French and German civil codes. Thailand’s first Civil and Commercial Code, adopted in 1925, formally recognized associations and foundations as not-for-profit organizations, and the Cooperatives Act recognized cooperatives three years later. The Labor Act, which provided for the formation of labor unions, did not enter into force until 1956. However, it was rescinded in 1958 after a coup, which also led to the banning of trade unions until another coup took place in 1972. The Labor Relations Act was enacted in 1975 and the Thai Labor Protection Act passed in 1998.

The current legal framework generally facilitates the work of CSOs. However, concerns about national security and the perceived need to curb illegal activities, such as money laundering, have resulted in restrictions on CSOs. For example, the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) is authorized to request relevant CSO documents, suspend suspected CSO transactions, and enter the premises of any CSO under Section 16/1 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 1999 so long as the AMLO has “sufficient evidence.”

Organizational Forms
Associations
Foundations
Cooperatives
Registration Body
Ministry of the Interior Department of Provincial Administration Ministry of the Interior Department of Provincial Administration Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives Cooperative Promotion Department
Approximate Number
84,099 (2018 est.)
Barriers to Entry
At least three association members must submit a registration application and accompanying documents, as well as a 2,000 baht registration fee
No fixed time period for officials to respond to a registration application
Government may deny the registration application if it does not comply with the relevant legal provisions or if its objectives are contrary to the law or good morality or likely to endanger public order or national security
At least three people must submit a registration application and accompanying documents, as well as a 200 baht registration fee
Minimum asset requirement of 500,000 baht
The government may refuse to register a foundation if it is found, for instance, to be not truly aimed at promoting public benefit
Before submitting an application to establish a cooperative, there must be a consultative coordination meeting with the responsible officials from the Cooperative Promotion Department, as well as meetings among the cooperative’s organizers
No registration fee
Barriers to Operations/Activities
CSOs may not act contrary to the law, disturb the peace and good morality of the people, or pose a threat to the state’s security. Some CSOs must submit annual financial reports.
Foreign organizations cannot engage in any forms of profit-making or political activities. Their activities and proceedings must not be detrimental to stability and to good relations between Thailand and other countries, and they cannot impede public order or public morals.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy
Criminal code contains lese majeste provisions and provisions on defamation. Recent military governments have taken a heavy-handed approach, charting individuals under the penal code, as well as under sedition, cybercrime, and other legal provisions.
Websites and social media posts with alleged “illegal” content are frequently blocked.
Barriers to International Contact
None None None
Barriers to Resources
Limits on income-generating activities: most or all revenue from economic activities must be dedicated to the promotion of social welfare and benefits; restrictions on types of economic activity Limits on income-generating activities: most or all revenue from economic activities must be dedicated to the promotion of social welfare and benefits; restrictions on types of economic activity Considered a hybrid between a for-profit and not-for-profit organization, so there are fewer restrictions on earning a profit, and cooperatives are typically established to serve the welfare of their members.
Barriers to Assembly
At least 24 hours advance notification is required for an assembly in a public place; permission is required for an assembly that will move in a procession between 6pm and 6am; activities causing undue inconvenience to members of the public are banned.
The government may introduce “urgent measures” in the case of emergency situations.
Population
69,480,520 (July 2021 est.)
Capital
Bangkok
Type of Government
Constitutional monarchy
Life Expectancy at Birth
Total population: 77.41 years (male: 74.39 years; female: 80.6 years) (2021 est.)
Literacy Rate
Total population: 92.9% (male: 94.7%, female: 91.2%) (2015 est.)
Religious Groups
Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.3%, Christian 1%, other <.1%, none <.1% (2015 est.)
Ethnic Groups
Thai 97.5%, Burmese 1.3%, other 1.1%, unspecified <.1% (2015 est.)
GDP per capita
$18,460 (2019 est.)

Source: CIA World Factbook

Ranking Body
Rank
Ranking Scale
(best – worst)
UN Human Development Index
79 (2020) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index
N/A 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index
N/A 100 – 0
Transparency International
36 (2020) 1 – 168
Freedom House: Freedom in the World
Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 25 (2020)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 40
1 – 60
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
82 (2020) 178 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements
Ratification*
Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Yes 1996
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)
Yes 1968
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
No
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)
Yes 1999
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
Yes 2003
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Yes 1985
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Yes 2000
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Yes 1992
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)
No
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Yes 2008
Regional Treaties
ASEAN Declaration
Yes 1967

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly, among other rights, are enshrined as fundamental rights in Sections 25-49 of the 2017 Thai constitution (Thai):

  • Freedom of expression: Section 34 provides that “A person shall enjoy the liberty to express opinions, make speeches, write, print, publicize and express by other means.” This liberty also covers “academic freedom.” “The restriction of such liberty shall not be imposed, except by virtue of the provisions of law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the State, protecting the rights or liberties of other persons, maintaining public order or good morals, or protecting the health of the people.”
  • Freedom of association: Section 42 provides that “A person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group…[T]he restriction of such liberty…shall not be imposed except by virtue of a provision enacted for the purpose of protecting public interest, for maintaining public order or good morals, or for preventing or eliminating barriers or monopoly.”
  • Freedom of peaceful assembly: Section 44 provides that “A person shall enjoy the liberty to assemble peacefully and without arms. The restriction of such liberty under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of a provision of law enacted for the purpose of maintaining security of the State, public safety, public order or good morals, or for protecting the rights or liberties of other persons.”

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

The Office of the Council of State (OCS) has proposed a draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-profit Organisations (Bill). A draft Act on the Promotion and Development of Civil Society Organizations has also been proposed by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS), along with an NGO Act proposed by certain Thai civil society organizations. Of the three draft laws, the OCS draft Act on the Operation of Not-for-profit Organisations is most concerning. The OCS draft Act was open for public comment in March 2021 and could be submitted for parliamentary discussion in mid-2021. ICNL has analyzed an unofficial English translation of the Bill and notes the following concerning features:

  • Overbroad definition of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs). Section 4’s overly broad definition of NPOs could capture nearly every informal gathering of individuals carrying out almost any activity, opening the door to dangerous government overreach.
  • Ministry of the Interior and Department of Provincial Administration as choice of regulatory agency. These government departments have historically been hostile to civil society and are also responsible for security concerns. If administration of NPOs is located with the Interior Ministry, the government will likely adopt a securitized approach to registration and oversight, rather than a more independent, administrative approach.
  • Mandatory registration requirements. Section 5 requires all NPOs to register under the Minister of Interior’s criteria, essentially prohibiting the existence of unregistered groups in violation of freedom of association.
  • Vague registration criteria and potential arbitrary denials. Section 5 institutes vague and unspecified criteria for registration, leaving open the likelihood of arbitrary denials.
  • Potential interference with NPO activities. Section 5 requires organizations to comply with criteria established by the Minister, none of which are defined, raising the possibility that NPOs will be censored or controlled by authorities.
  • Burdensome, intrusive reporting constraints on NPOs. Section 6 institutes burdensome reporting requirements on all NPOs, without distinction to size, resources, or activities; it also provides blanket powers of surveillance and investigation without any due process protections.
  • Restrictions on foreign funding for NPOs. Section 6 gives the Minister of Interior total discretion to authorize or block any foreign funding for any NPO in Thailand.
  • No possibility for appeal. The Bill does not provide any appeal process for decisions taken by the registrar, including suspension or termination.
  • Criminalization of unregistered groups and disproportionate punishments. Section 10 criminalizes any person operating an unregistered NPO with penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment and/or fines of 100,000 baht (~$3250 USD). It also allows for revocation or termination of NPO registration for failing to comply with designated provisions of the Bill.
  • Inadequate timeline for implementation and registration. Section 11 requires NPOs operating in Thailand to register with the Registrar within 30 days of the Act coming into force. Most laws in other countries allow a minimum of six months and more often a one-to-two-year period in which NPOs can register following implementation of a new registration regime.

ICNL recommends that consultations on the proposed NGO Acts be extended, and that the current OCS version be withdrawn.

Organizational Forms

Thai law recognizes a diverse range of organizational forms, including associations, foundations, trade associations, chambers of commerce, employer associations, labor unions, state enterprise labor unions, and cooperatives. These organizational forms all are regulated under their own stand-alone laws. For example, trade associations are governed by the Trade Association Act, whose regulator is the Department of Business Development in the Ministry of Commerce. Associations and foundations, by contrast, are regulated by the Civil and Commercial Code, with the Ministry of Interior as the regulator.

CSOs are most often formed as associations or foundations, both of which are “non-profit organizations” that pursue public benefit purposes. The main difference between these two organizational forms relates to the establishment requirements. An association is formed by at least 10 members. (Civil and Commercial Code, Section 81) There are many types of associations, such as trade associations, professional associations, and sport associations. Section 78 of the Code states that associations may not be established for sharing profit and income among members. A foundation is formed with property or cash assets of at least 500,000 baht (approx. 15,000 USD) to be used as an operating fund in the pursuit of their objectives. Section 110 of the Civil and Commercial Code states that “A foundation consists of property specially appropriated to public charity, religious, art, scientific, education or other purpose for the public benefit and not for sharing profit, and has been registered under the provisions of this Code. The property of a foundation must be managed for implementing the objects of that foundation, and not for seeking interest for any persons.”

In addition to associations and foundations, cooperatives may be formed under the Cooperatives Act. Section 4 of the Cooperatives Act states that cooperatives are “a group of persons who jointly conduct affairs for socio-economic interests of the members whose nationality is Thai on the basis of self-help and mutual assistance, and are registered under this Act.”

According to Section 3 of the Social Enterprise Act, a social enterprise “refers to a company, a partnership, or any other legal person, set up under Thai law” that “engages in the production, or sale of goods, or provision of services with social mission as the main objective and are registered under this Act.” Section 5(1) of the Social Enterprise Act also states that a social enterprise “must have objectives of promoting employment of disadvantaged people; or solving the problems of, and developing the community, society, or the environment; or for other social benefits.” Most social enterprises are established as companies or foundations, and in some cases as cooperatives, and are regulated under the Social Enterprise Act, the Public Limited Company Act, Civil and Commercial Code, and/or the Cooperatives Act.

Foreign private organizations (FPOs), as CSOs established under foreign laws, are a distinctive legal form. Since FPOs are considered foreign entities, their operations are more limited, and their objectives must be purely not-for-profit and non-political.

Unincorporated associations (e.g., a dancing club at a university) may serve a social purpose for a small group of people and need not be registered under the law.

Community enterprises are regulated by the Community Enterprise Promotion Act B.E.2548 (2005) and its 2019 amendment. These enterprises fall under the Department of Agricultural Extension in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. They are not required to register as a legal entity and exist mainly as unincorporated associations whose objectives are quite similar to cooperatives.

The various organizational forms of CSOs are regulated under different authorities. For example:

  • Associations and foundations are under the authority of the Department of Provincial Administration in the Ministry of Interior.
  • Cooperatives fall under the authority of the Department of Cooperatives Promotion in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
  • Social enterprises are under the authority of the Department of Social Development and Welfare in the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
  • FPOs fall under the Department of Employment in the Ministry of Labor.

It is difficult to determine the exact number of all CSOs because they are registered under different government agencies, and information about them is usually not available online. Nevertheless, according to the National Statistical Office, there were 84,099 CSOs in 2018. These included 48,248 religious organizations; 26,326 social welfare organizations; 3,496 trade associations and chambers of commerce; 3,397 cremation associations; 1,757 employer associations, labor unions, and state enterprise labor unions; 740 educational organizations (private schools and universities); 83 foreign private organizations (FPOs); and 17 private hospitals.

Public Benefit Status

Associations and foundations are recognized by the Civil and Commercial Code as “non-profit organizations” that must pursue public benefit purposes. Section 78 of the Code states that associations may not be established for sharing profit and income among members. Section 110 of the Code states that foundations are set up for public charity, religious, art, scientific, education, or other purposes for the public benefit and not for sharing profit.

Associations and foundations are entitled to tax exempt status under certain provisions of the Revenue Code (Thai; English (not updated)). The list of these organizations can be found in the Ministry of Finance’s Announcement on Income Tax and Value Added Tax (Issue 2) Re: Criteria for Consideration and Announcement of Organizations, Public Charitable Institutions, Clinics and Educational Institutions under Section 47(7)(b) of the Revenue Code and Section 3(4)(b) of the Royal Decree under the Revenue Code Regarding Value Added Tax Exemption (No. 239), B.E. 2534 (1991) as Amended by the Royal Decree Issued under the Revenue Code Regarding Value Added Tax Exemption (No. 254), B.E. 2535 (1992). As of August 2020, a total of 974 associations and foundations were recognized as tax-exempt.

To receive tax exemptions, associations and foundations must apply to the Revenue Department in the Ministry of Finance for “public charitable” status, which is a legal designation, and meet certain requirements, namely: they 1) must not have income from sales or services which yields monetary consideration in an ordinary course of business; 2) charitable expenses must exceed 60 percent of their income; 3) charitable expenses must exceed 65 percent of their total expenses; and 4) charitable expenses must be made general and wide-ranging (See the Ministry of Finance’s Announcement on Income Tax and Value Added Tax (Issue 2) re: Criteria for Consideration and Announcement of Organizations, Public Charitable Institutions, Clinics and Educational Institutions under Section 47(7)(b) of the Revenue Code and Section 3(4)(b) of the Royal Decree under the Revenue Code regarding Value Added Tax Exemption (No. 239), B.E. 2534 (1991) as amended by the Royal Decree issued under the Revenue Code regarding Value Added Tax Exemption (No. 254), B.E. 2535 (1992)).

Cooperatives benefit from government support in various forms, including exemption from corporate income tax; from fees for the acquisition, disposal, or retention of ownership of immovable property; and from stamp duties on certain documents. Cooperatives, however, still have to pay other taxes, such as withholding tax, VAT, and specific business taxes.

Once the regulations under the 2019 Social Enterprise Promotion Act are finalized, social enterprises are expected to be entitled to various forms of support and benefits from the state; however, these regulations are still being finalized as of August 2020.

Barriers to Entry

The law does not prohibit the formation and operation of unregistered groups, including social clubs, so long as they do not engage in social vices or disturb the peace and good morality of the people. There are, for example, numerous clubs and societies in universities, or social groups such as dancing clubs. Unregistered groups can be formed for the full range of purposes CSOs may register to undertake; not all of them, of course, are public benefit-oriented. There are no sanctions or penalties for carrying out activities through unregistered organizations, unless, of course, these activities are illegal (for instance, gambling).

Associations

The law requires at least three members of the association to submit a registration application on an official form to the district office (governed by the Department of Provincial Administration in the Ministry of the Interior) in Bangkok or a provincial area where its head office will be located. (Civil and Commercial Code, Section 81) There is no capital or asset requirement for setting up an association.

The application for the establishment of an association must be accompanied by a number of documents as required by regulations issued by the Ministry of Interior:

  1. The association’s regulations;
  2. The names, addresses, and occupations of at least 10 people who will be the association’s members, and of those who will be members of the association committee;
  3. The minutes of the association’s founding meeting;
  4. A sketch map of the location of the association’s head office and its branch offices (if any) and a paper permitting the association to use this location as its office;
  5. Photocopies of identification, other government-issued cards, house registration, and resident books of all association committee members;
  6. A photocopy of the paper permitting the formation of the association if its objectives are related to the work of the National Culture Council; and
  7. Other documents, if required. (According to officers involved in registration, requiring other documents is rare but can happen on a case-by-case basis, such as when the name of an association is similar to the name or trademark of another organization, in which case the applicant has to provide a letter certifying that they are not the same organization; or when an association—usually a sports association—wants to use “of Thailand” after its name.)

The registration fee for setting up an association is 2,000 baht (approx. 60 USD), plus a number of small miscellaneous expenses that are generally not burdensome. These include, for instance, the document amendment fee of 200 baht (approx. 6 USD), the document check fee of 50 baht (approx. 2 USD), and a fee of 5 baht for any other request (approx. 0.15 USD). These fees have remained unchanged since 1994.

There is no fixed time period for officials at a district office to review the application before forwarding it to the Ministry of the Interior Registrar for approval. The district officer or the Interior Minister may deny the registration application if it does not comply with the relevant legal provisions or if its objectives are contrary to the law or good morality or likely to endanger public order or national security. Vague terms such as “good morality” rarely result in rejection of an application. The applicant has the right to appeal a registration refusal in writing to the Minister of Interior, who will make a final decision on the issue.

Foundations

At least three people are required to apply for the registration of a foundation. (Civil and Commercial Code, Section 111) An application to establish a foundation may be submitted to the district office (governed by the Department of Provincial Administration in the Ministry of the Interior) in Bangkok or a provincial area where its head office is to be located. A foundation must be endowed with a cash asset of 500,000 baht (approx. 15,000 USD), or a cash asset plus other types of assets, which together amount to 500,000 baht.

The application to establish a foundation must be accompanied by the following documents:

  1. The name and address of the assets’ owner;
  2. The list of assets to be given to the foundation;
  3. The names, addresses, and occupations of all persons who will become members of the foundation committee;
  4. The regulations of the foundation;
  5. A written promise of the owner to donate the assets to the foundation, or a photocopy of the will if the foundation results from an inheritance;
  6. Photocopies of identification, other government-issued cards, house registration, and resident books of the assets’ owner and all foundation committee members;
  7. A sketch map of the location of the association’s head office and its branch offices (if any) and a paper permitting the association to use this location as its office;
  8. Minutes of the establishment meeting of the foundation; and
  9. Other documents, if required.

The registration fee for setting up a foundation is 200 baht (approx. 6 USD), plus miscellaneous expenses such as the document request fee of 10 baht/document (approx. 0.5 USD), the document amendment fee of 50 baht (approx. 2 USD) or the document check fee of 50 baht (approx. 2 USD).

The responsible authority (the Registrar, who in Bangkok is the Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary but in other provinces is the provincial governor) may refuse to register a foundation if it is found, for instance, to be not truly aimed at promoting public benefit, but rather seeking to benefit from special treatment, such as tax exemption for a foundation. The applicant has the right to appeal a registration refusal in writing to the Minister of Interior, who will make a final decision on the issue.

Cooperatives

Establishing a cooperative involves a far more complicated process comprising many stages. The Cooperative Promotion Department within the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is responsible for the registration and governance of cooperatives. (Cooperatives Act, Section 5) Typically, before the final stage of submitting the application for the establishment of the cooperative, those preparing to set up a cooperative must have a consultative coordination meeting with the responsible officials from the Cooperative Promotion Department, as well as meetings among the cooperative’s organizers. All necessary preparations must be completed at these stages. Because details are typically worked out through these meetings, the actual application stage usually proceeds without problems. The application must include the following documents:

  1. Application form;
  2. List of names of the prospective members;
  3. Plans for business or other activities;
  4. Regulations of the cooperative;
  5. Minutes of the meeting of the prospective members; and
  6. Minutes of the cooperative founding meeting.

There is no fee for establishing a cooperative.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Once established and registered, CSOs may not act contrary to the law, disturb the peace and good morality of the people, or pose a threat to the state’s security. The committee members of associations and foundations may not have criminal records or known moral misconduct. An annual finance report may be required for certain categories of CSOs.

Only the offences under the Act Prescribing Offences Relating to Registered Partnerships, Limited Partnerships, Limited Companies, Associations, and Foundations carry penalties. These penalties include fines, imprisonment, or dissolution of the organizations. Offences under the Act include using the terms “association” or “foundation” or insignia for an organization that has not been properly registered as an association or foundation, misleading others to think that an organization’s activities are undertaken in the name of an association or foundation, or failure to register changes to the committee members and regulations of an association or foundation. (Chapter II, Section 60) In addition, these penalties must be imposed in compliance with the law. Government protection for CSOs facing threats of violence typically follow a normal legal process: the CSO must report the threat to a police station, which will then take action.

FPOs’ operational activities are limited. They cannot engage in any forms of profit-making or political activities. Their activities and proceedings must not be detrimental to stability and to good relations between Thailand and other countries, and they cannot impede public order or public morals. (Application for Obtaining Permission to Operate in Thailand for Foreign Private Organizations, Rule 6) The permission to operate in Thailand is initially a maximum of two years, but then FPOs must apply to extend their registration (Application for Obtaining Permission to Operate in Thailand for Foreign Private Organizations, Rule 7) every one or two years The decision on whether to grant a one- or two-year extension mainly depends on the period of the organization’s project.

As a result, FPO operations are impermanent and can be stopped by the government at any time, whether or not the registration is being renewed. At the same time, there have generally not been cases of government intervention to terminate the operations of a foreign organization. Amnesty International, for example, can still freely operate in Thailand, even though it sometimes harshly criticizes the Thai government.

Barriers to Speech and Advocacy

The 2017 Constitution contains provisions protecting freedom of expression. Section 34 stipulates that “A person shall enjoy the liberty to express opinions, make speeches, write, print, publicize and express by other means. The restrictions of such liberty shall not be imposed, except by virtue of the provisions of law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the State, protecting the rights or liberties of other persons, maintaining public order or good morals, or protecting the health of the people.” This section also provides protection for academic freedom, and Section 35 stipulates that “a media professional shall have liberty in presenting news or expressing opinions in accordance with professional ethics.”

While the Constitution provides robust protection for the freedoms of expression and advocacy, the Criminal Code contains provisions on libel and defamation that protect the King and the Royal Family, as well as individuals and institutions. Violation of these provisions can result in fines and/or imprisonment. In particular, the lese majeste provision of Section 112 on Insulting and Defaming the Royal Family stipulates that “whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Section 326 of the Criminal Code protects individuals and institutions against defamation.

In principle, individuals or CSOs may criticize the government or advocate politically sensitive causes, including human rights and democracy. CSOs (with the exception of foreign private organizations) may also engage in political or legislative activities. In practice, however, governments, including fully elected governments, may take a more restrictive approach. Under recent military governments, there has been an increase in harassment, arrests, and retaliatory lawsuits against critics of the monarchy and the government, as well as against human rights defenders. The government has routinely censored opinions critical of the monarchy, including on social media platforms, charging individuals under the penal code, as well as under sedition, cybercrime, and other legal provisions.

Authorities have also frequently blocked websites and social media posts with alleged “illegal” content, defined as “inappropriate content that could harm the country’s security, including content that harassed the monarch.” This has resulted in the blocking of over 2,200 websites, and the government threatening action against social media companies for failing to remove illegal posts.

In March 2020, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government declared a state of emergency. The emergency measures barred the “reporting or spreading of information regarding Covid-19 which is untrue and may cause public fear, as well as deliberate distortion of information which causes misunderstanding and hence affects peace and order or public morals.” The decree empowered authorities to (1) order journalists and media groups to “correct” reports deemed incorrect and (2) to pursue charges against journalists under the Computer Crimes Act, with five-year prison penalties for violations.

Whistleblowers have faced retaliatory lawsuits and intimidation by the Thai authorities after they reported alleged corruption related to hoarding and profiteering of surgical masks and medical supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some medical staff were also threatened with disciplinary action for speaking out about shortages of essential supplies needed to treat Covid-19.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no formal restrictions on the ability of CSOs to contact and cooperate with colleagues in civil society, business, and government sectors within or outside the country, apart from the speech and internet restrictions mentioned in the previous section.

Barriers to Resources

There are no special restrictions or rules for domestic CSOs to receive foreign funding.

Associations and foundations, particularly those having charitable purposes, face restrictions on income-generating activities (Civil and Commercial Code, Section 78). While permitted to engage in economic activities, associations and foundations must dedicate most or all of their revenue to the promotion of social welfare and benefits. Moreover, there may be restrictions on the type of economic activity; for example, a foundation dedicated to helping rice farmers is not permitted to open a coffee shop. Therefore, most foundations rely heavily on grants and donations, and some of them separately establish a for-profit organization, such as a company.

By contrast, CSOs that register as cooperatives, social enterprises, or community enterprises are considered to be a hybrid between a non-profit and for-profit organization, which means they are less restricted in making a profit. For example, a social enterprise is characterized by its ability to generate revenue but is subject to spending limitations. Social enterprises must use most of their revenue for reinvestment or social or community benefit; investors or shareholders are entitled to no more than 30% of the profit. Section 5(3) of the Social Enterprise Act, for example, states that “At least 70% of profits must be reinvested for the objectives mentioned in Section 5(1) and not over 30% can be shared among shareholders. This reinvestment is for social benefit.” While cooperatives are typically established to serve the welfare of their members, social enterprises that are established as cooperatives must be more oriented to social or community benefits rather than those of only their members.

The perception of increasing risks of the misuse of CSO funding for money laundering and terrorism, however, has led the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) to receive authorization to request any relevant CSO documents, suspend any suspected CSO transactions, and enter the premises of any CSO under Section 16/1 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 1999, so long as the AMLO has “sufficient evidence.” Under the Thaksin government, Thai editors and journalists purportedly faced fabricated investigations by the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

Barriers to Assembly

Section 44 of the Constitution protects freedom of peaceful assembly, stating that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to assemble peacefully and without arms” and that “the restriction of such liberty under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of a provision of law enacted for the purpose of maintaining security of the State, public safety, public order or good morals, or for protecting the rights and liberties of other persons.”

Public assemblies are regulated by the Public Assembly Act, B.E. 2558 (2015) (Thai). The Act makes a distinction between public assemblies and other types of gatherings, such as religious gatherings and gatherings within educational institutions. A public assembly is defined as an assembly of individuals in a public place, which may amount to a demonstration. The text of the law does not leave room for excessive government discretion. The law was published in the Royal Gazette and has been generally publicized in other sources. In addition, a number of legal websites and NGOs have provided interpretation/explanation of the law to ensure public understanding, including tcijthai.com, ilaw.or.th, cpg-online.de (see also here), and tlhr.com.

Advance Notification and Permission

Assembly organizers must provide the police with advance notification of an assembly in a public place at least 24 hours beforehand. (Public Assembly Act, Section 10) The notification does not amount to a request for permission to hold the assembly; instead, police are notified so they can make necessary preparations to facilitate the event. The Public Assembly Act authorizes fines for failure to notify the police of an assembly in advance.

If the assembly will move in a procession between 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM, i.e., during the night, then the organizers must seek and secure permission. (Public Assembly Act, Section 16(8))

Other requirements primarily involve protection for public peace and order, for example a prohibition on activities, including delivering speeches, with amplifiers from midnight until 6:00 AM, and on activities causing undue inconvenience to members of the public. The law also permits those who suffer adverse impacts or damages from the assembly to lodge a complaint with the court to order an end to the gathering. (Public Assembly Act, Section 21)

Emergency Situations

The Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) potentially limits freedom of assembly, as it provides for the introduction of “urgent measures” in the case of emergency situations. In practice, its use has been limited to Thailand’s Deep South, which has been plagued with continuing unrest and separatist violence.

In October 2020, the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, asserting that escalating protests by pro-democracy groups contravened the law and the constitution, caused disturbances, undermined measures to curtail Covid-19, and harmed national security and public safety.

Policing/Enforcement

There have been repeated incidents of the state using force to break up public assemblies. For instance, in 2010, assemblies turned violent, with evidence of some assembly participants using weapons. The Armed Forces were called in to restore order, resulting in 87 deaths (79 civilians and 8 soldiers). More recently, in November 2020, ongoing pro-democracy protests were forcibly cleared, with at least 55 people injured when police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters.

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports
May 11, 2016
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Council on Foundations Country Notes
N/A
U.S. State Department
2019 Human Rights Report: Thailand
Fragile States Index Reports
Foreign Policy Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports
Thailand and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists
Thailand
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library
Thailand

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Key Events

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General News

Civil rights activist contests new version of NGO bill (March 2021)
A civil rights activist is accusing Thailand’s cabinet of revising a law without gaining the public’s input. The new version of the bill, which is intended to dictate transparency in the promotion and development of civil society organisations, includes the words “non‐profit,” while the original version did not. The bill is also supposed to provide oversight of NGOs that may receive financial assistance from overseas sources.

The foregoing information was collected by ICNL’s CFM partner in [Country Name].