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Thailand's Anti-Terrorism Decrees Draw Criticism


In Thailand, the arrest of one of Southeast Asia's most wanted terrorists has sparked debate over two recent decrees aimed at strengthening the war on terror. Some leading Thai figures say the decrees undermine the country's fledgling democracy.

Thai security officials on Tuesday swooped into the town of Ayuthaya and nabbed the al-Qaida network's leader in Southeast Asia, Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali.

Mr. Hambali also is believed to be the operations chief of the regional terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah. His arrest came one day after the Thai government issued two controversial decrees granting itself greater powers to detain suspected terrorists and freeze their assets.

The government says it issued the decrees because there is a threat of terrorist attacks during the October summit of the leaders of the Pacific rim nations and there was not enough time for the usual parliamentary debate.

Under Thai law, decrees may be adopted or rejected by Parliament, but may not be debated.

Opposition leaders have cried foul, noting that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's ruling coalition will ensure that the decrees are approved.

Fourteen law professors at Bangkok's prestigious Thammasat University signed an open letter criticizing the decrees. One of the professors, the dean of the university's Criminal Law Faculty, Tawekiat Menakanist, says such draconian measures should not be enacted in haste.

"We should consider it very seriously and take time," he said. "They [the decrees] have a gap, a lot of gaps that can punish innocent people."

Professor Tawekiat says the decrees use language that is not found in criminal law, so they will be difficult to interpret in the courts. And he says they target the perpetrator of an attack, but not those who plan or assist in the act.

Finally, he says the decrees were not necessary because existing laws are strong enough to deal with terrorists.

Civic groups and political dissidents fear the government may use the decrees to quash demonstrations and muzzle its critics.

Professor Tawekiat notes that the opposition has asked Thailand's Constitutional Court to review the decrees.

"I hope that the Constitutional Court will revise this," said Professor Tawekiat. "We agree we must have the anti-terrorist act, but not this way."

Prime Minister Thaksin dismisses the charges. He says the decrees are not aimed at boosting his government. Rather, he says, they are aimed at increasing international cooperation in the war on terrorism.

Mr. Thaksin tells reporters that if the government allows Thailand to become a safehaven for terrorists, it will be harmful for the nation.

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