Thailand Lifts Martial Law, But …

coup soldiers happinessThailand’s military government ultimately lifted martial law in a televised address to the nation Wednesday night.
Prime minister and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha had earlier sought approval from the king to lift martial law, which had been in place for nearly one year since the military took power in a coup last May.
While this certainly sounds like good news, here’s the catch:

The junta leader has immediately replaced martial law with the controversial Section 44 of the current interim constitution.
As outlined in an earlier post, the new executive orders continue several martial law clauses including the detention of dissidents for up to seven days without charge, the trial of civilians in military courts, the banning of political gatherings and the right to ban news and media which allegedly threaten national security.
In other words, While the lifting of martial law is sure to be met with approval from the international community, the revocation hardly signalizes a return to democracy as we know it.

While Prayuth insisted he would exercise his power under Section 44 “constructively”, rights groups have explicitly criticized the use of Section 44, which critics argue was akin to “assuming absolute control”.
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams described Section 44 as a “constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers”. Adams has been quoted as saying:

General Prayuth’s activation of constitution section 44 will mark Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship.

Thailand’s National Human Rights Commissioner Nirat Pitakwatchara commented:

To revoke martial law and exercise Section 44 instead is risky because the article gives the PM absolute authority.

As Saksith Saiyasombut argues in his analysis:

In layman’s terms, the head of the junta General Prayuth Chan-ocha can issue any order he thinks is appropriate to ensure what he thinks is “national security”, “public unity and harmony” or “public peace and order”, without any judicial and political oversight other than to immediately report to the fully-appointed, military-dominated ersatz-parliament (the National Legislative Assembly) and the Prime Minister – who happens to be General Prayuth Chan-ocha as well. A practical and handy carte blanche. (…)

His promise to use the law “constructively” is to be met with skepticism, since civil liberties have taken a nosedive since the coup almost 11 months ago and Article 44 seems to be Gen. Prayuth’s catch-all solution to nearly all problems.

Update, April 4 > Following domestic rights and media groups, a number of international organizations and foreign countries, including the UN, the United States, the European Union, Amnesty International, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), have also come out to criticize the junta chief’s decision to invoke Article 44. Prayuth’s outspoken reply to foreign critics has been as unequivocal as usual.

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