BANGKOK – Thai royalists on Thursday stepped up their campaign to drive out the country’s branch of rights group Amnesty International, handing over copies of a petition to government ministries that they say is backed by more than a million signatures.
About 200 protesters – mainly clad in yellow, a color closely associated with the monarchy – gathered opposite Government House in Bangkok. Representatives from the Labor Ministry and the National Security Council accepted envelopes containing their demands. The group later submitted the petition to the Interior Ministry.
The activists, members of various small nationalist groups, say Amnesty International is a threat to the country’s peace and security because it criticized a court ruling that said calls to reform the country’s constitutional monarchy are illegal.
The monarchy is revered by many Thais and until recently was almost universally treated as a sacrosanct pillar of Thai identity. Its reputation is fiercely guarded by the country’s ruling elite, including the courts and the military.
Critics of the royal institution say it has too much influence in politics and is not accountable.
“We are here to proclaim that what they have done from the past until now – we are not happy with them, and we will ask our prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, to take action with this,” said one of the protesters, 60-year-old Chutima Liamthong.
The petition was launched after Amnesty International criticized the Constitutional Court for ruling that three pro-democracy activists who had called for reform of the monarchy were committing sedition by attempting to overthrow the nation’s system of government with the king as head of state.
The activists say they have gathered 1.2 million signatures in support of their campaign, but that figure has yet to be confirmed.
Seksakol Atthawong, a vice minister in the Prime Minister’s Office who has been spearheading the move against the organization, was uncompromising as he addressed the protesters on Thursday.
“Thailand lived in peace, Thailand lived normally until these people came to support those who want to overthrow the monarchy, destroy national security, destroy the running of the country, destroy the normal Thai way of life and create chaos in the country,” he said.
The petition against Amnesty International, which originated last November, has been organized alongside a longer-term effort to enact a law to increase regulation of non-governmental organizations, an action critics say threatens free expression and is meant to intimidate people who criticize the government.
Amnesty International’s Thailand branch declined a request for an interview.
The organization said in a statement released Wednesday it is “committed to continuing to promote and protect human rights for people in the country” and is open to answering any questions the Thai government may have about its work.
“While we recognize that the Royal Thai Government has a duty to protect public order and national security, we continue to highlight that authorities must do so in a manner that is in accordance with international human rights law, and that is proportionate, necessary and fulfills the government’s obligations to ensure and facilitate respect for human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the statement said.