(Tokyo) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should press Thailand’s junta leader to improve human rights and restore democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today.

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who chairs the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta that staged a military coup in May 2014, is scheduled to travel to Japan from February 8 to 10, 2015. According to his office, Prayuth will meet Abe to seek to boost Japanese investment in Thailand.

“Prime Minister Abe should emphasize Japan’s deep concerns with military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai junta leader should be told there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand returns to democratically elected civilian rule, and respect for human rights is restored.”

In his meetings with Prayuth, Abe should put into practice his 2013 vision of “diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law,” Human Rights Watch said. Abe failed to translate that aspiration into reality when he met Prayuth last October. Abe should transform Japan’s traditional “quiet” diplomacy on human rights into a more strategic policy of public engagement and constructive criticism. Close diplomatic, political, economic, and socio-cultural ties provide Japan with significant leverage to be frank and forthright in raising human rights issues with Thailand.

Japanese officials should urge Thailand’s government to immediately address a range of pressing human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said. In the eight months since the military coup, the junta has made no genuine progress toward restoring democratic rule. As both junta leader and prime minister, General Prayuth wields broad powers without any judicial or other oversight. The interim constitution and the draconian Martial Law of 1914 provide immunity to junta members to commit human rights violations. Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO, such as the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Committee are all stacked with military personnel and other junta loyalists.

The NCPO has severely repressed fundamental rights and freedoms that are essential for the restoration of democratic rule. The NCPO has enforced censorship and ordered media not to criticize the military. More than 200 websites – including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page – have been blocked by the junta as threats to national security. The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits anti-coup activities. Protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta have been arrested and sent to military courts, where they face being sentenced to prison with no right to appeal. Deeming political discussions and diverse political opinions as a threat to stability and national security, the NCPO has extended its grip into universities and banned discussions about human rights, democracy, and the performance of the Prayuth administration.

“Thailand is in the choking grip of military rulers, a nationwide enforcement of martial law, and an unrelenting crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and assembly,” Adams said. “Pressure from a key business partner like Japan is crucial to bringing a speedy return to democratic rule in Thailand.”