What does martial law mean? What is the scope of martial law? And what can the citizens do if martial law is declared?
What Is Martial Law?
Martial law is the suspension of all civil functions and law as a result of the direct imposition of military rule in a city, state, or country. Many of the rights of the citizens are also suspended. It is typically imposed due to a state of unrest in the country, for example as a result of protests, a coup d’etat, civil war, or in occupied territories. It is basically meant to support the civilian government to impose its writ, overcome the unrest, and restore peace in the area. However, given the limited legislature on the scope of martial law and the absolute powers that it grants to the administrators of martial law makes it the last resort to be used in any scenario.
What Happens During Martial Law?
During martial law, the legislation is suspended. Civil rights are also limited, restricted, or completely abandoned. Freedom of speech, movement, protection from unreasonable searches, incarceration or arrest without warrant, freedom to buy and sell, among other things, may be suspended. Civil courts may be replaced by civilian courts and civilians may face court-martial for breaking curfew, and other activities deemed illegal under the martial law. The laws for civilian arrest are tightened, with the small, insignificant things leading to detention and arrests. Laws of habeas corpus are abandoned.
Let’s look at what happened during the last martial law in the US, which was imposed in Huwaei in Dec 1941. It was just before the attack on Pearl Harbour during the Second World War. The Governor of Hawaii asked the Commander of US Forces in his state to step in and hand over the state to him. What followed next was a typical example of what happens during martial law – schools were suspended, wages were frozen, there was censorship on radio, newspapers, and tv, civilian mail was under scrutiny, a curfew and blackout were imposed, and alcohol was banned. Even though martial law was imposed due to the threat of a Japanese attack, it was not removed until two years later, ell after the threat had dissipated.
When martial law is imposed, the presiding authorities have almost limitless powers, may take any step they deem necessary to deal with the situation at hand, and are usually not held accountable. There is no transparency in how the country is running and no public participation. This is perhaps one of the biggest threats to democracy in a country.
Who Can Declare Martial Law?
Martial law can be imposed on the orders of the President of the State Governor, however, if an army commandant feels it is necessary to impose martial law to curtail civil unrest or deal with an unusual situation, he may impose it himself and take control over civilian areas.
What To Do If Martial Law Is Declared?
If martial law is declared, the first thing to take note of is that civil rights are suspended. The way you were going about in your life will not be the same. There are a few things you can do to safely navigate through these tough times.
- Stock on your supplies: A martial law limits movement and can affect trade as well. Hence, like any natural disaster, it is better to stock up at least 3-4 days of food and supplies. Going out may be very restricted, the way to the superstore may have check posts, you may have to answer unnecessary questions about why you are out and your family and markets may not be functioning like they do at normal times. Thus, prepare beforehand and limit your trips to the store.
- Do not draw attention to yourself: Keeping a low profile is the key to navigating a martial law. The army keeps an eye out on anybody that acts strange, is moving a lot from place to place, is talking to groups of people, or dressing in a particular way. You should keep all your activities very limited, not discuss how you are stocked up or where your supplies are kept. Dress plainly. You don’t want to draw any attention to yourself.
- Reserve your comments: Martial law is not the time to be discussing the deteriorating economic situation, the political fiasco in the country, the policies being followed, and what the martial law administrator is up to. Do not comment unnecessarily, even if it is reserved for how you might have prepared for the situation you’re in. During martial law, nobody can be trusted. Your neighbor or friend might be reporting to the army. You do not want to be a suspect.
- Follow the new rules: A martial law may impose a curfew, a blackout, limit traveling times, ration food, impose restrictions on speech and social gatherings, and introduce a bunch of other restrictions. Make sure you are caught up with the new rules and follow them closely. The martial law administrators have the right to arrest you without a warrant if they feel you are remotely involved in breaking the law.
Safest Place During Martial Law
The safest place during martial law is your residence. If you have a country-side home or a cottage in the mountains or any other remote setting, it is better to shift there. The rules will be slightly more relaxed there as the population will be less and easier to handle. Also, if there are riots and chaos, you will be away from danger. If you can not move to a sparsely populated area, stay indoors. Follow all instructions and limit your social interactions.
Can A President Stay In Office During Martial Law?
The President may stay in office during his martial law if he has not completed two terms yet. Under martial law, the president gains the right to over 100 new provisions, to deploy and use to his discretion. If the President’s term is complete, he or she will step down and the office will be handed over to the President-elect, without the regular electoral process.
Martial Law Rules
Congress has, over the years, defined certain laws that may govern the imposition of martial law as well as the rules that may be put in place during a military takeover. There are a total of 136 statutory powers that become available to the President once he imposes martial law. Some of these include:
- Suspension of internet and online services.
- Restrictions on radio, tv, and print media.
- Restrictions on Civil Authority and Civil Law
- Possible suspension of Habeus Corpus doctrine
- The imposition of a curfew.
- Environmental laws and regulations set in place to protect farmlands, forests, parks, etc may be suspended. These areas can be used for military purposes.
- Unauthorized drugs may be approved for use including any device or biological product.
- Suspension of provisions regulating the storage, transportation, disposal, procurement, handling, and testing of chemical and biological weapons, including the prohibition on testing such weapons on human subjects.
These are a few of the martial law rules and regulations that may become available to the President under military rule. A military ruler has almost limitless power and is seldom held accountable.
If martial law is declared, the best thing to do is to avoid any confrontation with the law. Stay low-key and stay indoors. Keep your family safe and avoid garnering attention to yourself.