Thailand’s military junta replaces martial law with absolute power

Thai military has seized power 12 times since end of absolute monarchy in 1932

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has endorsed a request by the country's prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to end martial law, leaving the junta chief free to implement a constitutional clause giving him absolute power.

Gen Prayuth, who chairs the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, was the leader of the coup d’etat which swept the military to power in May last year, imposing martial law and kicking out the elected government, after months of unrest.

“We have prepared article 44 and will use it soon,” he told reporters, referring to an article of the interim constitution, drafted by the military, which gives Gen Prayuth the power to override any branch of government in the name of national security, and absolves him of any legal responsibility.

The measure will allow security forces to continue to make arrests without a court warrant and to detain people without charge.

“Article 44 will be exercised constructively. Don’t worry, if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s no need to be afraid,” said the general.

Descent into dictatorship

Brad Adams

,

Asia

director of

Human Rights Watch

, said the activation of section 44 marked Thailand’s “deepening descent into dictatorship”.

“Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand by the junta leader to replace martial law with a constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers,” said Mr Adams.

Since the coup, the junta has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists and others they accuse of supporting the deposed Yingluck Shinawatra government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-coup protests and activities, the watchdog said.

“Military personnel have interrogated many of these detainees in secret and unauthorised military facilities without providing access to their lawyers or ensuring other safeguards against mistreatment,” it said.

The junta is keen to wipe out the residual political influence of Ms Yingluck's brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself ousted by military coup in 2006 and whom many saw as still wielding potentially divisive power in Thailand, even though he lives in Dubai.

Meanwhile, Thai businessman Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee was found guilty on five counts of posting messages on Facebook deemed defamatory of Thailand's royal family and sentenced to 25 years in prisonunder the country's lèse majesté .