Yielding to the demand of the Thai government, Facebook has blocked access within Thailand of ‘Royalist Marketplace’, a group with 1 million members that discusses the country’s monarchy online.
Thailand’s digital ministry have previously threatened legal action against the social media giant over failure to take down content deemed defamatory to the king.
The “Royalist Marketplace” group was created in April by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a self-exiled academic and critic of the monarchy.
On Monday night the group’s page brought up a message: “Access to this group has been restricted within Thailand pursuant to a legal request from the ministry of digital economy and society.”
Pavin, who lives in Japan, said Facebook had bowed to pressure from the military-dominated government led by the former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha.
“Our group is part of a democratisation process, it is a space for freedom of expression,” Pavin told Reuters. “By doing this, Facebook is cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand.”
The move by Facebook comes amid near daily youth-led protests against the government and unprecedented calls for changes to the monarchy.
Facebook declined to answer Reuters’ questions about blocking the group. The company has said that when it receives complaints of posts violating local laws, it may restrict the availability of the content in the country.
Thailand has strict lese-majesty laws that forbid defaming the king, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
This month Thailand’s digital minister accused Facebook of not complying with requests to restrict content, including insults to the monarchy.
On 10 August he gave Facebook 15 days to comply with court takedown orders or face charges under the Computer Crime Act, which carries a fine of up to 200,000 baht (£4,860) plus an additional 5,000 baht per day until each order is observed.
“The deadline is almost up and Facebook understands the context of Thai society, so they cooperate,” said the ministry’s spokesman Putchapong Nodthaisong.
Last week the ministry filed a separate cybercrime complaint against Pavin for creating the group. (Source: The Guardian)