Thailand's military-instaled Prime Minister Prayuth has announced he would lift martial law, but replace it with special security measures. Critics fear the move would give him unchecked authority.
Prime minister and military junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday he would invoke controversial Article 44 of junta-imposed interim constitution to issue a new order protecting Thailand's security.
The measure gives former army commander Prayuth power over all aspects of government and absolves him of any legal responsibility.
The prime minister told reporters that a new order to replace martial law would be "issued very soon."
Pressure from abroad
Prayuth also said he had asked the king of Thailand for permission to scrap the martial law, which was imposed after the Prayuth-led army takeover in May 2014. The approval from 87-year old king Bhumibol Adulyadej is considered a formality.
Major General Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, a junta spokesman, told reporters Prayuth felt the decision was necessary because "foreign countries were concerned over our use of martial law."
Under the law, the army has been able to use military courts to trial suspects in cases of national security and royal defamation offenses, with no right of appeal. The media is under strict control and any political gathering of more than five people is forbidden.
'The world will not be fooled'
Critics believe that exchanging the martial law for new special security measures might make the army's grip even tighter.
"Article 44 essentially means Prayuth is the law. He can order the detention of anyone without charge, without having to put the person on trial and for as long as he desires," columnist for The Nation newspaper, Pravit Rojanaphruk, wrote.
In a joint statement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and seven other rights groups warned that using Article 44 would grant Prayuth "absolute powers... over the legislative, the administrative and the judiciary."
"The world won't be fooled. This is a deepening of dictatorship," added Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch.
Nothing to fear - nothing to hide
The junta chief sought to lessen the impact of such concerns, telling the media he would use Article 44 "constructively" to deal with security problems.
"Don't worry," Prayuth told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. "If you're not doing anything wrong, there's no need to be afraid."
Prayuth has promised to return power to an elected civilian government, but only after reforms to fight corruption and limit the power of political parties become part of a new constitution.
dj/bk (AFP, AP)