What is Martial Law ?

Martial law is the imposition by a government of direct military control of normal civilian functions, particularly in response to a temporary emergency such as an invasion or major disaster, or in occupied territory.

This means that the representatives chosen by the voting population are no longer in power, in the case of elected governments.

Accordingly, civilians have ceded control of the country in exchange for the possible restoration of order, with the possibility that control may not be given back.

The legal effects of a martial law declaration differ in different jurisdictions but they generally involve the suspension of normal civil rights and the extension of summary military justice or military law to the civilian population. In principle, however, a temporary state of martial law could potentially last forever.

How Does Martial Law Work ?

When martial law is in place, a state or country’s military commander has full power to legislate and execute it.

When a civil government has ceased to work, is entirely absent, or has become inactive, martial law is justified.

Above everything, proclaimed martial law would almost definitely lead to the loss of freedoms. This means that the constitution may be revoked, as would the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, to keep and bear arms, to a fair and speedy trial, and so on.

Curfews are usually followed by the declaration of martial law; the revocation of federal law, human liberties, and habeas corpus; and the implementation or expansion of military law or military punishment to civilians.

Civilians defying martial law can be tried in a military tribunal (court-martial).

Martial Law Work

What can Happen Under Martial Law?

  •         Deployment of armed forces
  •         Confiscation of weapons
  •         Travel bans
  •         Imposition of curfew
  •         Restriction of free expression
  •         Confiscation of food supplies
  •         Confiscation of land
  •         Arrest and detention of individuals at will 
  •       Judicial tribunals
  •         Surveillance of press
  •         Demonstrations
  •         Arrest
  •         Searches by the army and police
  •         Suspension of human rights
  •         General propaganda

When can a Country Enforce Martial Law ?

There are several reasons a nation may enforce martial law and all of them have to do with public health, safety and security.

While martial law is the topic of considerable controversy and discussion, martial law can be used or be necessary in any of the following situations:

  •         The overthrow of civil government
  •         Terrorist assault
  •         Enemy invasion
  •         Coup d’état
  •         Natural disaster
  •         Insurrections
  •         War
  •         Occupation of a foreign territory
  •         To suppress political opposition, as in the 1989 Chinese Tiananmen square protests
  •         Absence of other government or civil authority
  •         Mass rioting, and disobedience
  •         General business breakdown
  •         Attacks by EMPs

Who has the Right to Declare Martial Law?

In the UK, the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act lays out the martial law system.

Part 2 of the Act – special powers – provides exceptional authority to cabinet officials during a national disaster, including the ability to amend every legislative statute, except the human rights act.

In addition, in the event of a national crisis, Part 2 allows the Government to deploy armed services, prohibit public assembly (Article 11 of the Human Rights Convention incorporated in the Human Rights Act), impose travel restrictions, force evacuations and prevent public access to sensitive areas.

The length of this legislation is limited to 30 days unless Parliament agrees to prolong the time until it expires.

In the United States, Congress or the President can declare martial law at the national level.

The governor has the power to enforce martial law within the State borders of each state.


Who is using Martial Law?

Many nations around the world have such rules calling for the application of martial law.

For example, the British government, which governed most of Ireland, proclaimed martial law during the Irish war of independence (1919-1921), in order to retain control over Irish civilians. The British used the military to defeat Irish resistance fighters, which they claimed threatened the health of the country.

Examples of Martial Laws by Country


On 14 August 1824, martial law was declared throughout the Bathurst region, leading to a sharp rise in conflict between the settlers and the Wiradjuri people.


Brunei has been under martial law since a rebellion took place on 8 December 1962 known as the Brunei Revolt and was put down by British Singaporean troops.


To resolve student and worker demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on May 19, 1989, the Chinese government imposed a press blackout and declared martial law to come into force the next day.


The emergency rule order was upheld by the Egyptian revolution of 1952 and the whole nation remained under martial law until 2012, with a few brief respites. The legislation regulating martial law was extended gradually over seven decades at times, unfavourable court decisions required changes; at other times, special courts proved effective in promoting martial law through modern instruments.

In 1958, “martial law” was changed to “state of emergency,” possibly because military forces were no longer an indicator of wartime but a permanent form of government.


Martial law in Ukraine was a martial law era imposed by presidential decree of 26 November 2018 in 10 regions of the country from 14:00 local time for 30 days in order to strengthen Ukraine’s security against the backdrop of growing conflict with Russia. Russia had fired on three Ukrainian boats, captured their crews and killed three crew members.

Poroshenko summoned his War Cabinet and then the National Security Council for an emergency session, in which he declared that he would send a bill to Parliament to impose martial law to prevent any further escalation


Soon after a breakdown of peace negotiations with separatists, the Indonesian government enforced martial law for a six-month duration on May 18, 2003, in the province of Aceh, where a bloody war for independence has been fought for more than 25 years.


From 1948 to 1966 Arab residents in Israel lived under martial law. Throughout this time, the Arab community was subjected to several restrictions that violated basic civil rights and discriminated against them. For starters, Arab people had to bring travel permits to see their families and had to get permits for some of the jobs they worked in.


On 7 September 1978, Tehran was devastated by strikes and widespread demonstrations against the Shah. The day was recognised as Black Friday and saw protests scattered across the world with demonstrators accusing the Shah of being a US proxy. Four days later, martial law was imposed.


In September 1972, Marcos proclaimed martial law, arguing that it was the only defence against the chaos triggered by increasingly violent student protests, the supposed threats of communist insurgency by the new communist party of the Philippines (CPP), and the Moro national liberation front (MNLF) Muslim separatist movement.


On 13 December 1981, soldiers and armoured vehicles flooded into the streets of Poland, the borders of the country were sealed and thousands of opposition demonstrators were detained as the communist authorities reaffirmed their power despite facing the threat of revolt.

South Korea

On 17 October 1972, President Park Chung Hee declared martial law throughout South Korea, suspended parts of the Constitution, closed the National Assembly and suspended all political activities. He also imposed press censorship, and all universities and colleges were closed.


Martial law was proclaimed for one month in Dublin on 25 April 1916, the day after the Rising ignited. A curfew was imposed between 8.30 pm and 5 am. Anyone who was found walking the streets during night hours would be shot on sight. By 7 pm the trams stopped operating, and by 8 pm theatres and cinemas closed. Many that were waiting for trams entering the city centre had to go through a security cordon for stop-and-search.


The martial law period in Taiwan is generally said to have begun on May 19, 1949, when the provincial government of Taiwan declared the implementation of martial law.

It ended on July 15, 1987, when president Chiang Ching-Kuo announced that martial law would be lifted. Restrictions on martial law prohibited the establishment of political parties and allowed military courts to trial citizens on sedition charges.


On 19 September 2006, the Thai army launched a coup against prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, sending tanks down the streets of Bangkok before imposing martial law and claiming that it had established a provisional government.

On 26 January 2007, martial law was abolished in 41 of Thailand’s 76 provinces but remaining in effect in 35 other provinces.


On 12 September 1980, after the military took power, the five General Staff generals declared martial law in all of Turkey’s current 67 provinces. And in 2016 the Turkish army proclaimed martial law and said it had “completely taken control” of the country in a statement read out on Turkish television.


Emergency laws in Syria were introduced more than half a century ago when the Baath party seized power. The emergency law of Syria granted the government a free hand to detain individuals without a warrant and applied the power of the state to nearly any part of the lives of civilians.


President Lincoln instituted martial law enacted by Congress on 15 September 1863. The Act enabled the president to suspend habeas corpus in the entire of the United States (which he had already done on April 27, 1861 under his own authority).

United Kingdom

Martial law has been formally proclaimed four times on British territory. Two of them were during World War 1 and World War 2. During the Irish war of independence, the third was limited to Ireland, when Ireland was still part of the UK.

It was also proclaimed in Quebec in 1970 when the constitution of Canada was still attached to the British. Northern Ireland never had a formal declaration of martial law, but a defacto martial law was imposed in the 1970s.


In the light of the opposition and secession in various parts of the country (particularly in East Pakistan and the North-West Frontier Province), on 7 October 1958, Mirza declared the 1956 Constitution abolished, closed the national and provincial assemblies and banned all political party actions.

He proclaimed the nation to be under martial law, and that Gen. Mohammad Ayub Khan was made chief executive of martial law.

What to do if Martial Law is Declared

Store Supplies In your House

You may be on your own during a collapse in democratic government before martial law is enforced. Have all you need to survive without assistance for at least 72 hours?

Maintain a Low Profile

Anyone who has demonstrated civil disobedience previously will be among the first to be prosecuted.

Preppers would be highly vulnerable during Martial Law. They are really going to look for the troublemakers in the confusion, so it is best to not engage in rioting and maintain a low profile. Do not bring attention to yourself in any way.

Give Officials Respect and Courtesy

They’re not perfect human beings and there will be faults. The best that you can do is to help and to comply. If you want to survive, this is not the time for liberal activism. You’ll need to momentarily strip yourself of personality to act like everyone else.

Be mindful of what you’re telling the press. It is easier not to say anything. Stay tuned to the news and keep up to date. Staying updated and staying in contact with whomever you find important is key.

The federal government will control any television source, as well as the internet, and you will have no access to all other information but what is shared by the state.

Though this can be disturbing, you also need to know what will happen so that you can be prepared for any circumstance.

It is most likely to happen in a post-disaster scenario, where there will be a lot of uncertainty and misunderstanding.

What Is the Difference Between Martial Law and Emergency Law ?

Government and ordinary court laws are suspended in martial law, while government and courts can function as usual in emergency law. Martial law can be imposed on the grounds of maintaining law or order while emergency law can be imposed on the grounds of war, external aggression or armed rebellion.

The Advantages of Martial Law

If a nation is blanketed by a set of undesirable forces that threaten to affect society, the government will be under pressure to declare martial law. This is to neutralise any criminals who are responsible for causing violence in society.

Restoring peace is one of the key issues why martial law is essential to society once in a while so that crime rates will drop dramatically and safeguard society’s welfare. Properly done, martial law is an effective way of keeping order until things can be brought under control.

When to Declare Martial Law

Taking into consideration the detrimental effects martial law may have on a nation and its people, imposing martial law is a last resort reserved for circumstances where law and order deteriorate rapidly.

It can be proclaimed during serious demonstrations, civil wars, coup d’états, or insurrections. Martial law can also be proclaimed when the military occupies foreign territories, such as at the end of a war, by a government. The governor of Idaho, for example, imposed martial law in 1892, after a group of rebellious mine workers blew up a structure which levelled a four-story building and killed one person.

The authority to declare martial law usually resides with the president. Circumstances in which it can be proclaimed and other restricting factors, such as the length of time it can be left in place, are enshrined in law or the constitution of a country.

For example, during a time of violent civil unrest, a president might be allowed to enforce martial law but only for 60 days. The extent and length of martial law may also be restricted by international law if a country has signed a multilateral treaty.

Key Takeaways

Martial law is a last resort tool used to protect people from a crisis of national or local import. It can also be used for protest situations or for nuclear or biological hazard risks on a city level. As long as there is no more martial law once the threat is terminated.

When martial law is in force, you are in danger, and hiding until regular government functions resume is in your best interest.

The worst-case scenario is to protect yourself from an attack but this is best avoided by staying out of sight.

The powers of martial law are vested in the Commander in Chief. You’ll surrender all of your rights during a time of martial law.

Blocks on roads and transit hubs would guarantee that no one would be able to exit or enter their town or city without express permission to avoid grouping of people.

The legal consequences of a martial law declaration vary in different jurisdictions but usually include a suspension of normal civil rights.

Based on the case, you could be physically removed from your home by the authorities in order to purchase, confiscate or even ruin the property on the behalf of the government, without having to pay compensation.

Martial law is practised only when considered necessary and restricted only by international law and the conventions of civil war.


That depends on the country’s rules. For instance, in the USA., the supreme court ruled that the imposition of martial law by Lincoln (by the revocation of habeas corpus) was unconstitutional in places where the municipal courts were still sitting.

In general, police (and military) are allowed under martial law to arrest people with a much looser justification and for longer periods (i.e. until the martial law is lifted) than when normal laws are in effect.

Martial law is the enforcement of direct military command over normal civilian government activities, in particular in response to a temporary emergency such as invasion or major disaster, or in occupied territory.

With a curfew, you are not allowed to leave your home. If you wish for some reason, to step out during curfew, you need prior approval from the local police. In curfew, individuals are told to remain indoors for a certain amount of time.

Yeah, after a no-deal Brexit, the government is currently exploring the possibility of martMartial law is deemed bad or unfair because it could be violated.

It occurs in the event of a dire emergency, where the usual rules (laws) will not suffice to protect the citizens, in which case the military will become law enforcement. By doing so, the government is free to implement whatever it finds necessary. This endows the governing agency with utter control which can be exploited outright.

Martial law features include: curfews, suspending civil law, civil rights and habeas corpus (allowing people to be detained); application of military law or military justice to civilians – civilians defying martial law are subject to military tribunals (court martials).

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