Thailand has moved one step closer towards entrenched military rule in recent days, after the governing junta granted sweeping powers of arrest and detention to military personnel, drawing harsh criticism from civil society groups and the US government in the process.

Under the terms of the new order, soldiers from the rank of sub-lieutenant and above have the authority to arrest and detain anyone suspected of one of 27 crimes, including extortion, human trafficking, and labor abuse. They are also permitted to search properties without a warrant.

The powers were granted on March 29 by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired army general who as the head of the junta — known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) — has overseen feverish persecution of political dissent.

NCPO spokesman Col. Piyapong Klinphan last week told the Bangkok Post the order was aimed at preventing and suppressing crimes that imperil peace and public order, or that could sabotage the economy.