BANGKOK – An order by the junta government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha giving sweeping police powers to soldiers is part of the “steady erosion of human rights protections”, campaigners said on Tuesday, calling for the law to be rescinded.
The military said the order was necessary to follow through on their vow to crack down on “mafia figures”, adding there were not enough police officers to do the job.
But the move has been criticised by rights groups who say it is a new judicial power grab by a military government that has clamped down on dissent since seizing power just under two years ago.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, six groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, condemned the move.
Instead of paving the way for a return to democratic rule, the Thai junta has broadened its powers to do almost anything it wants, including committing abuses with total impunity, Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said.
Gen Prayut made the order under Section 44 of the interim constitution, a controversial power he granted himself allowing him to issue any executive order in the name of national security.
Under the terms published in the Royal Gazette last week, soldiers can detain suspects without arrest warrants as well as seize assets, suspend financial transactions and bar suspects from travelling abroad.
The order also says soldiers are not covered by laws monitoring police abuses, effectively handing them immunity from prosecution.
Analysts say the order is the latest effort by the junta to chisel away at the powers of the police.
Gen Prayut seized power in May 2014 promising to tackle corruption and end the kingdom’s damaging cycle of street protests, coups and toppled governments.
But critics say the move was a power grab by arch-royalist generals.
Meanwhile, The United States on Monday urged Thailand to limit the role of its powerful military after the ruling junta gave military officers new police-like powers to arrest and detain criminal suspects.
The US State Department voiced concern that Thai authorities issued an order extending the internal policing authorities of the military to seize assets, search premises, and summon, arrest, and interrogate civilians.
“We continue to urge the Thai government to limit the role of the military in internal policing and to allow civilian authorities to carry out their duties,” said Katina Adams, department spokeswoman for East Asia. “This includes returning the prosecutions of civilians to civilian courts and providing adequate due process and fair trial protections.”
The US has modestly scaled back its deep ties with Thailand since the coup, amid uncertainty about when it will return to civilian rule. But Gen Prayut was among dozens of world leaders who attended last week’s nuclear security summit in Washington, where he was honored at a dinner hosted by US business leaders. – AP