Thailand protests: What is martial law and why was it imposed?

Martial law was declared on Tuesday in an attempt to bring peace

Following months of protests that have been targeted by violence, Thailand’s military imposed martial law in the Southeast Asian country on Tuesday, in an attempt to restore order.

But what is martial law, why was it imposed, and what does it mean for the citizens of Thailand?

What is martial law?

The measure is usually introduced when a country is considered to be in a state of emergency, after official bodies are deemed to have stopped functioning effectively - in this case by being unable to end violence. 

Exactly what is taken over is different each time martial law is used. On Tuesday, the army interrupted regular broadcasting to announce various edicts and expansions of its power under martial law, including the following:

— Activists gathered in Bangkok cannot march cannot march outside of their protest sites, to “prevent clashes between groups of protesters with different views.”

— Ten politically affiliated satellite and cable TV stations, including those funded by pro- and anti-government protest movements, have been asked to stop broadcasting until further notice.

— TV and radio stations should interrupt any regular programming for army broadcasts.

— Any broadcast or publication that could “incite unrest” is banned.

— Social media cannot be used to incite violence or opposition to the military authorities, and violators will be prosecuted.

— Police should hand over reinforcements to the military if requested.

Typically, under martial law soldiers also have authority to enter and search private property and make seizures in the name of keeping peace.

Read more: Does Thailand’s democracy have a future?

Why martial law?

The military stepped in partly to prevent clashes between the anti-government protesters, who said this week was the “final battle” in its attempt to oust the government, and ‘Red Shirt’ pro-government activists gathering on the outskirts of Bangkok.

But the military has stressed that despite their introduction of martial law, the move is not a coup. This distinction is particularly important reassurance when considering that the Thai military has staged 11 successful coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932

On Tuesday, the military made no move to dissolve the country's constitution or its current caretaker government. However, it is believed that if uncontrollable violence erupts, the military might step up its role in politics.

How does this affect the Government?

After Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ordered to step down by a Thai court earlier in May, an interim government took over power. But it did not look particularly powerful on Tuesday, after acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan waited nearly 12 hours to respond to the army's announcement. An aide told reporters the prime minister's location was being kept secret for security reasons, and he met with Cabinet ministers in a “safe house.” Cabinet ministers said the army had not consulted the government before declaring martial law.

The pro-Government Red Shirts have expressed no outrage at the move, and said they could accept martial law but that they won't tolerate a coup. A move by the military toward a full-blown coup could incite the Red Shirts and lead to more violence.

Passersby pose for a photo with Thai army soldiers standing guard on a city centre street (Getty Images) Passersby pose for a photo with Thai army soldiers standing guard on a city centre street (Getty Images)

How will citizens and visitors be affected?

The military kept a low profile in central Bangkok on Tuesday, and were mostly positioned near the two main protest sites and at some key intersections, where the mood was reportedly not tense.

Photos have even emerged appearing to show Thais posing for photos with the soldiers.

Additional reporting AP

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