US, UN lead the criticism of Thai junta’s replacement of martial law
The Thai junta’s decision to lift martial law was denounced by critics Thursday as cosmetic, with Washington and the United Nations warning that replacement security measures would not loosen the military’s grip on power.
In an announcement late Wednesday Thailand’s generals officially lifted martial law 10 months after seizing power in a coup.
But the controversial law, which western allies had called on Bangkok to revoke, was replaced with a new executive order retaining sweeping powers for the military and junta chief Prayuth ChanOcha.
Those measures were passed under Section 44 of the juntawritten interim constitution, a controversial provision handing Prayuth power to make any executive decision in the name of national security.
The new order includes a continuance of a ban on political gatherings of more than five people, while the military retains the right to arrest, detain and prosecute people for national security crimes or those who fall foul of the country’s strict royal defamation laws.
A new rule also appears to deepen censorship of the media, by allowing military officers to stop the publication or presentation of any news they deem to be “causing fear or distorted information.”
Worse Than Martial Law
The U.N.’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the new powers as “even more draconian” than martial law.
He added he was “alarmed” by the move “which bestows unlimited powers on the current prime minister without any judicial oversight at all.”
A U.S. State Department official said Washington expected the Thai military to end trials of civilians in military courts, detention without charge and to allow people to express their opinions freely.
“We are concerned that moving to a security order under Article 44 will not accomplish any of these objectives,” the official said.
Thai analysts and critics pilloried the replacement measures as martial law in all but name.
“Section 44 is actually worse (than martial law),” constitutional scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University told AFP, adding that the new order allows Prayuth to execute key decisions without the oversight of a military court.
“When they ask for the martial law to be lifted, what the public is really asking for is the return of basic rights and liberties to Thais. Prayuth fails to understand that,” he said.
Political commentator Verapat Pariyawong described the move to replace martial law “with something even worse” as an “April Fool’s day trick.”
‘At military’s own pace’
But some defended the military saying the potential remained for anti-coup protests to upset the uneasy peace imposed since the takeover.
“The powers have been reduced,” former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a staunch proestablishment politician, told AFP, adding that those who criticize the new order as the same as martial law were being “unfair.”
“They (the military) are looking for a way to try and relax but they are doing it at their own pace and they still feel that they are not yet secure,” he added.
Thailand’s generals had been under pressure from western allies, businesses and tour operators to rescind martial law.
The tourism industry, which usually accounts for around 10 percent of GDP, said the law put visitors off and made it difficult to obtain insurance.