Thai gov’t refuses to back down against Facebook over anti-monarchy page

Bangkok, Aug 26 (efe-epa).- Thailand’s government on Wednesday said it would stand its ground in its crackdown on social media content it deems illegal after it ordered Facebook to block a page that is critical of the country’s powerful monarchy.

Facebook on Tuesday announced it was preparing to take legal action against Thailand, saying the move to restrict access to the Royalist Marketplace page, which has over a million followers, was a breach of international human rights.

Thailand has some of the toughest lèse majesté laws in the world, and criticizing or insulting the country’s royal family can lead to a 15-year prison sentence.

At a press conference on Wednesday, digital economy and society minister Puttipong Punnakan said Thailand was ready to go to court if Facebook decides to challenge the ruling.

“If Facebook decides to take legal action against the Thai government, we also have a legal team ready to study, explain and defend the case in accordance with Thai law,” Puttipong said.

The request to restrict the content “complied with the Computer Crime act. It was not a threat or an abuse,” the minister said, adding that he thought it unlikely that Facebook would actually take legal action.

The users of Royalist Marketplace, which was blocked on Monday night, were debating the country’s monarchy, a hugely sensitive topic due to the draconian lese-majeste law.

In its statement Tuesday, Facebook said: “Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves.”

The spokesperson said Facebook worked to “defend the rights” of all internet users.

Groups like Human Rights Watch and the page’s founder, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, applauded Facebook’s announcement, although they criticised the platform for too easily complying with the order.

Pavin said the page had served as a space for freedom of expression in support of the student-led pro-democracy protests taking place in Thailand on a daily basis since July.

He said Thailand’s ministry of digital economy and society, which ordered the closure of the page, was “at the frontline in the battle of the information in cyberspace.”

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha said the order to close the page had not been based on “dictatorial powers” but had been supported by a court.

“Everyone must respect the laws of other countries. Personally I don’t get involved in the laws of other countries,” he said. Prayut, the leader of the 2014 coup d’état, won last year’s elections in Thailand with little democratic transparency, according to his critics.

On 10 August the Thai government threatened legal action against several platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube within a space of 15 days if they did not remove thousands of posts considered illegal in Thailand, including some that criticized the monarchy.

The ramping up of legal threats against pro-democracy activists comes at a time of student protests calling for the dissolution of parliament, democratic reforms and an end to elite pro-military hegemony.

As well as criticizing the government, the protests that began in Bangkok on 18 July have included rare messages calling for limitations to be placed on the powers of King Vajiralongkorn.

At least 11 people have been arrested during the rallies, which at their height on 16 August attracted more than 10,000 participants. EFE-EPA


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