The Thammasat University law scholars group Nitirat has called on the government to revoke martial law which was declared by the army early on Tuesday morning, saying that the law was declared arbitrarily without the approval of HM the King.
The group said the constitution stipulated that martial law must have the prime minister countersign a royal command. However, the Army Chief signed the law by himself without a royal command.
The group, also known as the Enlightened Jurists, said in their statement that the nationwide announcement of martial law was disproportionate because political rallies remain only in Bangkok, and risked violations of the basic rights and liberties of citizens.
Instead, the group suggested that the government could use the Internal Security Act and Emergency Decree to control the situation, in the case of the violent unrest.
The law, which dates back to 1914, states that martial law is used when “war” or “chaos” occurs in any area of the country. The legal scholars however point out that such a situation has not yet taken place, therefore it is not necessary.
On Tuesday morning at around 6.30 am, Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha appeared on national TV stations to announce that the army had declared martial law because it needs to bring back peace and order after the unrest and violence of political protests.
The announcement was followed by the army’s order to abolish the government-run Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), and replace it with a military-led Peace Keeping Command Centre (PKCC). The Centre also prohibits all kinds of media from disseminating “information that might cause distortion and create chaos, rifts, terror or misunderstanding in society.”
At least 50 soldiers are reportedly stationed at all TV stations, asking for “cooperation” not to air political matters, and to air the army’s announcements when asked. It also ordered at least 10 partisan TV satellite stations, as well as unlicensed community radio stations, to temporarily stop broadcasting.
Rights groups have expressed concerns about Thailand under martial law. The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has warned of possible human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention and torture, prevalent in southern Thailand where martial law has been in force since 2004, while the US State Department has urged Thailand to solve political conflict through the ballot box.
Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said "Thailand is using a century-old law with draconian provisions that permit the military to exercise essentially unlimited authority to violate human rights if they are so inclined.”
“There are basically no brakes in this law -- the authorities can prohibit any activity, censor the media, outlaw meetings and assemblies, search and seize any item, hold people without trial for up to 7 days, and even compel forced labour,” he added.