Thai junta chief threatens to shut down critical media

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta chief Friday vowed to shut down critical media outlets as he faced a growing international backlash against his decision to replace martial law with new powers retaining his absolute authority.

Bemoaning critics of his regime, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha ordered the media to toe the regime's line or face consequences.

"I will shut them down only when they don't say good things. I have not yet shut down any publications but please write in a good way. If it is not good, then I will need to do that," a stern-faced Prayuth told reporters during a visit to a military college in Bangkok.

Prayuth officially lifted martial law on Wednesday, 10 months after seizing power in a May coup.

But the controversial law was replaced with a new executive order retaining sweeping powers for him and the military.

Among the new rules in the order is a provision allowing military officers to stop the publication or presentation of any news they deem to be "causing fear or distorted information".

While media freedoms have been curbed since the coup, four bodies representing local Thai media condemned the new press law saying the measures "interfere with the rights and freedom of people and media much more than martial law did".

The order that replaced martial law was passed under Section 44 of the junta-written interim constitution, a controversial provision handing Prayuth power to make any executive decision in the name of national security.

It also upholds a ban on political gatherings of more than five people, while the military retains the right to arrest, detain and prosecute people for national security crimes or those who fall foul of the country's strict royal defamation laws.

Only one area of the new order appeared to soften the military's power. Civilians will still be tried in military courts for national security and lese majeste crimes, but they can now appeal to higher tribunals.

Under martial law there was no right of appeal to convictions in military courts.

Replacing martial law has received short shrift both inside Thailand and from Bangkok's Western allies, who have been urging Prayuth to return the kingdom to civilian democracy.

The European Union became the latest ally to criticise the new powers late Thursday saying they would not bring Thailand "closer to democratic and accountable government".

Key ally Washington had previously criticised the replacement of martial law while the UN's human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein described the new powers as "even more draconian".