BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military-installed prime minister said Tuesday he plans to lift martial law 10 months after staging a coup, but will invoke a special security measure that critics say is more draconian.
The development has sparked concern from human rights groups, lawyers, political parties and scholars who say the measure, Article 44 of a junta-imposed interim constitution, gives Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha unchecked authority over all three branches of government.
Prayuth, the former army commander who led the May 22, 2014, coup that overthrew an elected government, told reporters Tuesday that he is seeking King Bhumibol Adulyadej's approval to revoke martial law. The monarch's approval is considered a formality.
Prayuth has faced growing pressure to scrap martial law, which places the military in charge of public security nationwide and has been criticized as a deterrent to tourists and foreign investors.
Thai media have referred to Article 44 as "the dictator law." Under a similar law in the 1960s, a Thai dictator carried out summary executions.
The measure gives Prayuth power over all aspects of government, law and order, and absolves him of any legal responsibility for his actions.
"Article 44 essentially means Prayuth is the law. He can order the detention of anyone without charge, without having to put the person on trial and for as long as he desires," Pravit Rojanaphruk, an outspoken columnist for The Nation newspaper, wrote Tuesday.
The Geneva-based rights group, the International Commission of Jurists, expressed strong reservations about Article 44.
"Article 44 violates the fundamental pillars of the rule of law and human rights, including equality, accountability, and predictability," the group's secretary general, Wilder Tayler, said in a statement posted on its website. He said the statute would not be a real improvement over martial law, which he said should be lifted in favor of returning to civilian rule.
Prayuth sought to downplay such concerns, telling reporters he would use Article 44 "constructively" to solve security issues.
"Don't worry," he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. "If you're not doing anything wrong, there's no need to be afraid."