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Facebook to launch legal action against Thai government after request to block group critical of monarchy

The group’s creator, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, told KrASIA that he received a call from Facebook on Monday informing him of the take-down action.

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Facebook plans to take legal action against the Thai government over its demand to block access to a group it deemed defamatory to the country’s monarchy, according to a statement from the company. The group has over one million members.

“After careful review, Facebook has determined that we are compelled to restrict access to content which the Thai government has deemed to be illegal,” Facebook’s spokesperson told KrASIA. “Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves.”

“We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request,” the spokesperson added.

The move came shortly after the social media behemoth blocked access to the “Royalist Marketplace” group, where members discuss the Thai monarchy, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The group, created in April by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an exiled scholar and critic of the monarchy, includes a range of content from “business advertisements, serious discussion on the monarchy, to parody and sarcasm” according to Pavin’s blog.

Pavin told KrASIA that he received a call from Facebook on Monday to inform him of the take-down action.

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“Initially, I was furious and told them that they’re cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand,” he said.

However, after learning about Facebook’s planned legal response, he said he agreed with the social media giant, as the move would raise international awareness about what is happening in Thailand.

According to Thai law, government or law enforcement must file a court order via the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES) to request restrictions of illegal content. The ministry also filed a separate cybercrime complaint against Pavin last week, according to Reuters.

Facebook’s protest

Facebook said that the government has been pressuring the company to “restrict certain types of peaceful political speech” being shared or seen by Thai users.

“Excessive government actions like this also undermine our ability to reliably invest in Thailand, including maintaining an office, safeguarding our employees, and directly supporting businesses that rely on Facebook,” the company’s spokesperson added.

On August 3, DES Minister Puttipong Punnakanta accused Facebook of failing to comply with requests to restrict content that includes insults to the monarchy, according to a Reuters report.

He filed a court order seven days after the accusation, which give Facebook 15 days to take down illegal content under the Computer Crime Act, which could lead to a maximum fine of up to USD 6,367 (THB 200,000) and an additional USD 159 (THB 5,000) per day until each order is observed.

In Thailand, the lèse majesté law prohibits defamation against the monarchy and could translate into a maximum of 15 years in jail. In recent years, it has spawned a number of notable cases, including a 35-year prison sentence to a man pleading guilty to 10 violations of the law. The recent move comes as ongoing anti-government protests in Thailand seek reforms of the monarchy.