Less than 24 hours after Thailand's junta replaced martial law with a special security order, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein issued a scathing statement blasting Thailand's government for a move he called “even more draconian” than martial law.
“The problem is they've replaced it with something that's even worse, essentially - more draconian, not least because it's vauger and more, sort of, all-encompassing,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights told VOA by telephone from Geneva. “So, it's really very worrying because it could lead to quite wide-scale human rights violations with total impunity and gives quite extraordinary powers even to junior military officers in their dealing with civilians.”
The high commissioner's statement said that the imposition of Article 44 of Thailand's interim charter allows the junta's boss, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, “to issue any legislative, executive or judicial order.”
Article 44 was actually used to lift martial law, explained Panitan Wattanayagorn, advisor on security affairs to the deputy prime minister, retired general Prawit Wongsuwan.
“Last night there were 14 regulations being issued to curb the power of the martial law. That's the point that's missed by the United Nations high commissioner, I think,” said Panitan in a VOA interview on Thursday. “I would urge the United Nations' officers to study the text carefully.”
High Commissioner Zeid, in his statement, asserted the junta has now swept away “all checks and balances on the power of the government.”
The UN's human rights office is also alarmed by the authority that Thailand's military officers now have to prohibit the reporting of news.
“The high commissioner actually describes this as annihilating freedom of expression,” said Colville. “They can also restrict the sale and distribution of books, publications and on the very, very vague grounds - just a suggestion that the book or the newspaper or whatever may create public fear or is intended to distort news and information. That's incredibly easy to abuse.”
Freedom of assembly also remains severely curtailed, with heavy punishment earmarked for protesters who gather in groups of more than five.
The High Commissioner's statement concludes by urging Thailand “to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and promptly restore normal civilian rule of law, as it pledged to do after the coup in May last year.”
Then-army chief Prayuth declared martial law on May 20 and two days later ousted the civilian government in a bloodless coup - the latest in a long series of such interventions by the military.
The junta has made no secret to cleanse Thai politics of the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and subsequently convicted of corruption. He has been in self-imposed exile for years to avoid prison, but has continued to wield great influence at home. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was removed as prime minister shortly before last year's coup, which came after a sustained period of street protests against her.
Analysts say the military - always a powerful force in a country that has had weak civilian governance - wants to ensure it is in control to avoid any potential chaos when Thailand's King dies.
The widely-revered monarch, Bhumibol Adulyatej, is 87 years old and has spent most of his recent years in a hospital. His son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is first in line to ascend to the throne.
Any speculation about the future of the Chakri Dynasty is not openly discussed as Thailand has harsh lese majeste laws, which have been increasingly applied since last year's coup.