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New Thai government retains junta powers of arbitrary detention

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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has defended his original invoking of junta-era powers as a way of "solving problems". AFP

New Thai government retains junta powers of arbitrary detention

Thailand's new civilian government will retain the power to arbitrarily detain critics despite the imminent easing of junta-era security controls, prompting warnings from rights groups of enduring “martial law”.

Nearly 2,000 people have been tried in military courts since now-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power in a 2014 coup.

The junta eased a ban on political activities last year in the run-up to national elections and the former army chief phased out dozens of additional junta-enacted orders on Tuesday, transferring military cases to civilian courts.

But the government retained over 100 orders, including the right for the military to detain suspects for seven days on national security grounds.

“This is martial law used during an emergency crisis, but we’ve had elections and a new government so why is it still imposed?” said Anon Chalawan of legal monitoring group iLaw.

Prayut on Tuesday defended his original invoking of junta-era powers as a way of “solving problems”.

But political analyst Titipol Phakdeewanich said the continuing restrictions showed that full democracy remained a distant prospect for Thais.

“I think they know people will be more critical of this government,” he said.

Thailand held elections in March and Prayut holds a slim majority in the lower house through a coalition of almost 20 parties, which – together with a military-appointed Senate – installed him as civilian prime minister.

Prayut’s political opponents slammed the process, which included the temporary suspension from parliament of his biggest rival.

But despite questions over his legitimacy the ex-army chief is pressing ahead and is expected to form a cabinet in the coming days.

Tuesday’s announcement came after a rash of attacks on pro-democracy activists that remain unsolved.

In late June, activist Sirawith Seritiwat was set upon with sticks by men on motorcycles and put in hospital.

The police on Wednesday charged eight people for allegedly posting “false information” on Facebook accusing authorities of being behind the attacks on Sirawith.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.

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