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.

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