The military government had replaced martial law "with something even more draconian", the United Nations human rights chief said on Thursday, as he called for a return to civilian rule.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said the decision "leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights" and "annihilates freedom of expression".
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s proposal to end martial law was endorsed by His Majesty the King and it was quickly replaced by an order under Section 44 of the interim constitution.
Section 44 gives Gen Prayut, in his capacity as chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order, the unfettered right to exercise the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches for security and in the national interest.
The revision bestows "unlimited powers" on the prime minister "without any judicial oversight at all", Mr Hussein said in a statement, noting that the junta had pledged a return to civilian rule after the coup last May.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein (EPA photo)
"In effect, this means the sweeping away of all checks and balances on the power of the government, rendering the lifting of martial law meaningless,” Mr Hussein said.
The Section 44 order allows soldiers to continue to make arrests of people deemed to endanger national security and hold them for seven days without a court warrant, and to also ban media reports judged harmful to the national interest.
Soldiers can raid any location or property, search any vehicle and summon anyone for interrogation. Political gatherings of more than five people are also prohibited.
Gen Prayut said on Thursday he saw no problem with the controversial law being invoked.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Thursday vehemently defended the government’s use of Section 44, saying it was a special law for use in maintaining peace and order in the country and aimed at those defying the law and the NCPO's orders, and not for violating human rights.
In an interview with reporters, Gen Prawit, also the defence minister, was asked why Section 44 needed to be invoked at all, because the situation seemed normal.
“How can you be confident that it is normal? You answer that. How can you know what the country will encounter tomorrow? It is still divided and we are trying to reduce that, and it has decreased a lot now,” Gen Prawit retorted.
Asked about concerns by the international community that the law was more "draconian” than martial law, he shot back, "I don’t know, I’m not a foreigner…. I’m not concerned, but you can be if you want. If you are Thai, you don’t have to worry about that."
He said he was confident the new law would bring peace to the country.