Thai Junta Expands Military Power in New Order, Citing Article 44

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha at the Royal Thai Army's Command and General Staff College in Bangkok, 3 April 2015

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military junta issued an order on Wednesday evening granting Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and his Cabinet members the power to request military assistance with law enforcement duties.

According to the order, which was published in a Royal Gazette broadcast on national television, the measure is intended to "increase the efficiency in the enforcement of laws that protect the public interest."

The order states that Cabinet ministers, all of whom were chosen by junta chairman Gen. Prayuth, can request the assistance of military officers  from the Minister of Defense, who is also a junta member.

Those officers will be granted the same powers as police, and must act in accordance with existing laws. However, civilian officials will be required to "cooperate with the military officers." Refusing to cooperate will be considered a violation of disciplinary regulations, the order states.

The order marks the second time Gen. Prayuth has invoked Article 44 of the interim constitution, which grants him essentially unlimited power to intervene in national affairs.

Gen. Prayuth, who came to power in a coup last May, did not directly use his powers under Article 44 until last week, when he invoked the clause to to retain key components of martial law after repealing it on 1 April. He cited the Article to issue a 14-part order maintaining the military's authority to detain individuals without charge, ban political gatherings, and try civilians in martial court, among other powers.

Gen. Prayuth also said he would use the Article 44 to "swiftly" solve national problems, such as land encroachment and human trafficking.

The order released tonight listed "encroachment on public land and national parks, and the usage of public space that blocks traffic and creates a nuisance among the people," as examples of issues that military officers will be assigned to help quell.

Article 44 has been strongly condemned by international human rights agencies and democratic governments, who say the law grants Gen. Prayuth a dangerous amount of unchecked power. 

"Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said last week. "But I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all. This clearly leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights."

In response to the criticism, the junta has promised not to abuse the law or violate human rights. Gen. Prayuth and other junta leaders have repeatedly said that "good people" have nothing to fear. 

(Reporting by Sally Mairs)

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