11 July 2024

Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), the only group outside Parliament to have its draft Constitution amendment tabled for debate by lawmakers, has been hit by allegations of foreign funding.

 

The civil rights organisation managed to push its proposed bill seeking formation of an elected charter-drafting assembly and nine other points. Among them are stipulations that the premier must be an MP and senators must be elected. The draft is designed to erase the legacy of the 2014 coup.

Established in 2009, iLaw describes itself as a “Thai human rights non-governmental organisation engaging with civil society groups and the general public in efforts to achieve democracy, freedom of expression, civil and political rights, and a fairer, more accountable system of justice in Thailand”.

 

Its draft was backed by over 100,000 voters, more than double the number required (50,000) to have it tabled in Parliament. Lawmakers will debate it on November 17 along with six other motions seeking to amend the 2017 Constitution.

Other motions proposed separately by coalition parties and opposition parties seek changes to Article 256 to pave the way for a Constitution drafting assembly.

Opposition parties have submitted four more motions seeking to change clauses they call “problematic”.

 

Focus has been on iLaw’s amendment draft as pressure is mounting for MPs and appointed senators to support changes to the existing charter.

However, iLaw’s proposed bill is unique for seeking changes to the charter’s first two chapters, which have been left untouched over decades of many different Thai Constitutions.

 

Chapter 1 on General Provisions contains the foundational clause, “Thailand adopts a democratic regime of government with the King as head of state.”

Chapter 2 includes Section 6, which states: “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.”

 

ILaw has come under fire for seeking amendments to these untouched provisions, but also for accepting funding from foreign agencies.

Royalist and right-wing groups accuse the foundation of taking money from overseas to undermine the Thai monarchy.

 

Singer-turned-activist Haruethai “Au” Muangboonsri said it was “unacceptable” for a foreign-funded NGO to push for changes to the Thai Constitution. “We should not allow Americans and Jews to change our constitution which was supported by Thai voters in a referendum,” she said.

ILaw’s website is open about its funding, declaring that since 2015 it has taken money from six foreign organisations, namely the Open Society Foundation, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, National Endowment for Democracy, Fund for Global Human Rights, American Jewish World Service and Google.

 

Senator Kittisak Rattanawaraha queried the NGO’s legitimacy in pushing for changes to the country’s supreme law, saying “any amendment to the Thai Constitution must be done by Thais. We won’t tolerate it if this organisation gets foreign funds and creates chaos in the country.”

However, iLaw’s founder and executive director Jon Ungphakorn insists the organisation never allows those who fund it to influence its work.

 

“I can tell you that we have never and will never allow any source of funds to guide or dictate what we do. We don’t tolerate any interference in the organisation’s independence,” the ex-senator said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Not long after its creation, iLaw launched an online campaign for “people’s bills” for social reform. Later, it began working with other civil society groups in campaigns to abolish Thailand’s three security laws (Martial, Emergency Rule and National Security), as well as for an end to film censorship, and for reform of the punitive and broad-ranging Computer Crimes Act.

 

In 2010-2011, iLaw conducted a study on internet censorship and the Computer Crimes Act’s impact on human rights and freedom of expression.

After the coup in May 2014, it began documenting political detentions and trials under martial law. It also documented the exercise of absolute power by junta leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha under the interim charter’s Article 44.

ILaw published a chronology of the times Prayut invoked Article 44 between December 25, 2014 and October 6, 2016.

In June 2019, iLaw joined 22 other civic groups in collecting signatures for new legislation to rescind all 35 orders issued by the National Council for Peace and Order since the coup. Orders issued by coup-leaders – seen as a means to hold sovereign power – are treated as law.

 

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk