BANGKOK – Human Rights Activists have expressed concerns of potential abuse under a new law,Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha enacted this week, that broadens the powers of the military to include policing crime.
The new orders, issued this week, allow military personnel acting as crime suppression officers to conduct searches, seize assets, suspend financial transactions and prevent suspects from travelling abroad.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan defended the special powers, saying the government needs the military personnel to compensate for shortages in the police force.
Prawit said a government list of influential people targeted in the crackdown includes â€œhundreds of police and military officers.â€ Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to the deputy prime minister, said the minister has called for caution in the implementation of the orders.
However, rights groups and law associations quickly raised concerns about the new order saying the offenses specified in the law could be used to target government critics.
Sunai Pasuk, Thailand representative for the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, said the order was seen as a form of martial law, potentially open to abuse.
The new powers come as the military government is also reported to have adopted a tougher stance against politicians critical of the 2014 post-coup government and who refuse to cooperate.
The government has applied so called â€œattitude adjustmentâ€ brief detention sessions on dozens of critics, politicians, activists and academics. There has also been close monitoring of political seminars, lectures and events undertaken by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
The stepped-up security measures come as the Constitution Drafting Committee this week completed a new draft charter due to go to a referendum on August 7.
If the charter is passed in the national vote, this would lead the way to planned general elections in 2017.
By Ron Corben