Martial law has been lifted in Thailand, but replaced with a sweeping new security decree that grants virtually identical powers to the junta.
On Wednesday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave his much-expected rubber stamp to General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s decision to invoke Article 44 of the nation’s interim constitution, by which "acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability" may be curbed.
Human Rights Watch's Asia director Brad Adams decried the Southeast Asian nation’s "deepening descent into dictatorship" since the May 22 coup d’état.
"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," he said in a statement.
The new order grants powers to the military to arrest anyone for suspected crimes against Thailand's powerful royal family, as well as those who are deemed to be jeopardizing national stability or violating the orders of the junta. The military has also been granted powers to seize assets, censor the media, and detain suspects for up to seven days without charge.
Anyone found guilty of flouting the order faces a year imprisonment.
Since seizing power, the military has also used — under the guise of protecting the royal family — the nation’s draconian lèse majesté law to target critics and political opponents.
On Tuesday, businessman Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee, 58, was jailed for 25 years for allegedly posting defamatory comments on Facebook concerning the monarchy.
“Thailand's return to democracy remains uncertain as the junta retains tight grip amid the unending climate of fear,” says Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained Thai lawyer and visiting scholar at the University of London. “Martial law may be lifted today, but Thailand remains deeply sunk in unchecked military rule.”