Thailand human rights groups denounce martial law, renew call for its end

Soldiers patrol around the Royal Thai Army Headquarters as members of the Radio and Satellite Broadcasters gather in Bangkok on June 18, 2014. Rights activists on Monday renewed calls for an end to martial law imposed since Thailand's coup, accu
Soldiers patrol around the Royal Thai Army Headquarters as members of the Radio and Satellite Broadcasters gather in Bangkok on June 18, 2014. Rights activists on Monday renewed calls for an end to martial law imposed since Thailand's coup, accusing the military of overseeing a judicial "twilight zone" following their power grab. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Rights activists on Monday renewed calls for an end to martial law imposed since Thailand's coup, accusing the military of overseeing a judicial "twilight zone" following their power grab.

Army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha introduced the draconian law two days before the May 22 coup that he led swept the elected government from power. He cited the need to restore peace and order after months of protests.

Martial law "is tantamount to a twilight zone of judicial process during which the officials have broad powers without checks and review", the report said, adding such powers may lead to "serious violations... of fundamental human rights".

The release of the study, "The Human rights Situation 100 Days After the Coup", was scheduled last week but the authorities warned its authors to postpone publication. The report expressed particular concern over trials in military courts and the use of a controversial royal defamation law to protect key members of the monarchy.

General Prayuth is now also prime minister and is due to lead the first meeting of a military-stacked Cabinet on Tuesday.

Martial law bans political gatherings, allows the detention of dissidents for up to seven days without charge and permits trials in a military court.

In the days and weeks following the coup more than 570 people were ordered to report to the authorities, according to a report submitted by the Thai lawyers for Human Rights to the Interior Ministry.

It said more than 260 people were arrested with 87 now facing legal action, 61 of them in military courts.

Fourteen people have been charged under the strict '112' defamation law since the coup, according to the study, which said the jurisdiction of military courts has also been widened to hear some lese majeste cases.

"Only one in three judges in a military court has to have a law degree and the rest are simply commissioned officials who may not even have any legal background," it added.

Last week the United Nations said it was "seriously concerned" about the worsening human rights situation in Thailand.

Junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree said the report was "one-sided" adding "we don't understand their (the report authors') intentions".

He also denied anyone detained in the post-coup period has been tortured, as alleged in the report, adding that lifting martial law was being "considered carefully... by security agencies and not for political reasons".

Gen Prayuth says he was forced to take power after months of protests against then Premier Yingluck Shinawatra's government left 28 people dead and hundreds wounded.

He has ruled out holding new elections before October 2015, despite international appeals for a return to democracy, vowing first to oversee reforms said to be aimed at cleaning up politics and society.

Critics say the coup is a smokescreen for a purge of the influence of Ms Yingluck's divisive older brother, the self-exiled billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.