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Activists Question the End of Martial Law in Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha requests the king to end martial law.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha requests the king to end martial law.

Thailand’s rulers announced this week that martial law had ended, with the support of the King. The rulers say martial law will be replaced by Article 44, a security law in the country’s temporary charter.

Legal experts and human rights defenders in Bangkok say the announcement is not a reason to celebrate. They are warning that the new law will widen and strengthen the powers of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha.

The temporary charter replaced Thailand’s constitution following the government overthrow on May 22, 2014. Martial law was in effect for more then ten months.

Thailand's National Human Rights Commission says enacting Article 44 will give Prime Minister Prayuth absolute power.

The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, strongly criticized the move. He released a statement saying Prime Minister Prayuth could now “issue any legislative, executive or judicial order.”

Rupert Colville is a U.N. Human Rights agency spokesman. He says the new rule is even worse than martial law.

“It’s really very worrying because it could lead to quite large-scale human rights violations with total impunity and gives quite extraordinary powers to even junior military officers in their dealings with civilians.”

Mr. Colville says the U.N. High Commissioner is also extremely concerned about the power the military now has in the reporting of news.

“They can also restrict the sale and distribution of books, publications, and on the very, very vague grounds, just a suggestion, that the book or the newspaper or whatever may create public fear or is intended to distort news and information. That is incredibly easy to abuse.”

Freedom to gather also remains highly restricted in Thailand. Protesters who gather in groups of more than five can face severe punishment.

A Thai government advisor on security issues says the U.N does not understand what Thailand did this week. He says the government established fourteen rules to lessen the power of martial law. He says he thinks the U.N. human rights agency missed that point.

Prime Minister Prayuth has promised to use his increased powers responsibly. He said those who have not done “anything wrong” have no need to be afraid. However, he strongly warned that “if there is any shooting and causing of chaos again, I will order arrests immediately.”

The U.N High Commissioner is calling on Thailand to honor international human rights law and return normal civilian rule to the country. The agency statement noted that Thailand promised, right after the overthrow, to take that action.

Observers say Article 44 guarantees the military will have control of Thailand during a period of royal change expected in the near future. King Bhumibol is 87 years old and has been in poor health for years. His son, the Crown Prince, is not as well-liked as his father.

I’m Caty Weaver.

VOA correspondent Steve Herman reported this story from Bangkok. Ashley Thompson wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

martial law n. control of an area by military forces rather than by the police

absoluteadj. complete and total

impunityn. freedom from punishment, harm, or loss

chaosn. complete confusion and disorder: a state in which behavior and events are not controlled by anything

royaladj. of or relating to a king or queen

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