Editorial: Revoke Martial Law

Anti-martial law protesters in Ubon Ratchathani province, 20 May 2014

Regardless of the pretext or intention, the martial law imposed by the Royal Thai Army today infringes on the rights of Thai citizens and should be repealed without delay.

Citing potential bloody clashes between the pro- and anti-government protest factions, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha imposed martial law at 3:00 a.m. this morning and installed the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC) to oversee the invocation of the 100-year-old law. 

The military has insisted that this is not a coup. But coup or no coup, the martial law is already restricting a number of human rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Thai constitution. 

There is no basis for Gen. Prayuth to impose the martial law. Although there has been sporadic violence over the past few months, the situation has not reached the full-scale "unrest" that Gen. Prayuth said last week was the condition for a military intervention.

Thailand’s martial law explicitly says that it may only be declared by the military in a time of war or insurrection. Neither is happening in Thailand at the moment. 

On the first day of the martial law regime alone, at least 14 TV stations and local radio stations were shut down by the POMC, ostensibly to avoid dissemination of "distorted" information to the public.

More intrusion into the media rights by the POMC appears to be on the horizon; just hours ago, the POMC warned the media against giving platforms to commentators that stand in the way of the POMC’s mission, and threatened to shutdown social media sites that the military deems unacceptable.

Thai media deserves the right to operate without censorship or intimidation. The martial law is only worsening the already fragile state of media freedom in Thailand.

Direct military intervention rarely ends well in Thailand. The fact that Gen. Prayuth decided to impose the martial law on the 4th anniversary of the unrest in 2010 — in which more than 90 people were killed in the clashes between the army and Redshirt protesters — is particularly uncouth. One can only wonder whether the military has learned its lesson.

It is not too late for Gen. Prayuth to step back from the brink and repeal the draconian state of martial law.