Editorial: BKK Bombing No Justification for Martial Law

Damage caused by two IEDs in front of Siam Paragon on 1 Feb 2015.

Regardless of who is responsible for the Siam Paragon bombings, the incident should not be used as an excuse by the Thai junta to maintain martial law and its broad restriction on human rights.

On 1 February, two homemade pipe bombs exploded on the walkway connecting Siam Paragon, one of the largest shopping malls in Thailand, and Siam skytrain station, the city's busiest thoroughfare. The bombs did not cause any fatalities, but they alarmed many by striking the heart of Bangkok's financial district.

Police have yet to make an arrest, but that has not stopped Thais across the political spectrum from pointing fingers. However, what is most concerning is the military junta’s attempts to use the incident to justify its prolonged imposition of martial law. 

"There is necessity for martial law to prevent ill-intentioned individuals from committing any further wrongdoing," junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in response to the bombings on 2 February.

This is logic is flawed on a number of accounts. To begin, the fact that the bombs were successfully detonated suggests that martial law is not as effective at safeguarding the public as the junta claims. Further evidence of this can be found in the three southern border provinces, known as the Deep South, where insurgents stage near-daily attacks despite living under the Internal Security Act – which is modeled on martial law – for the past eleven years. 

In addition, contrary to what the junta claims, continuing martial law and a ban on all political activities is unlikely to lead to peaceful reconciliation of Thailand’s political foes. Rather, prolonged suppression is more likely to drive politics underground, where it may come back to haunt the country in a more militant form. The surest way to avoid violence is to let people air their grievances through public assemblies and other peaceful forms of expression.

Written in 1914 – before Thailand became a constitutional monarchy –Thailand’s martial law is an archaic piece of legislation that is inappropriate for the modern age. The 100-year-old law grants the military a number of outmoded powers, such as the authority to "Burn any house or thing which may be useful to the enemy" and "alter the nature of the country or village … for the purpose of fight or preparation for the defense at the discretion of the military authority." Most glaringly, the law may be invoked by army chiefs without any approval from a parliament or civilian government; no modern democracy should grant the military such unilateral power.

The law itself specifies that it can only be invoked in time of war and insurrection – neither of which is happening in Thailand right now. The junta’s claims that martial law is needed to fight terror attacks is also baseless; there are many Western nations that live under fear of terror attacks, yet none have gone to the extreme of imposing martial law.

The junta’s response to the 1 Feb bombings suggests that Thailand is in for a vicious cycle, in which the junta’s suppression of civil rights leaves dissidents little choice but to take up arms, which is then seized upon by the junta to further justify its iron grip.

There is no justification for martial law without the approval of an elected parliament. The law should be repealed immediately and then re-written by elected lawmakers to prevent the current status quo from ever happening again.