Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha says Thailand will stand up to any challenge from Facebook over the banned group “Royalist Marketplace”.
The premier accused overseas organisers of the Facebook group, which has about one million members, of causing conflict in Thailand and failing to take responsibility for their actions.
Following threats of legal action by the Thai government, access to the page in Thailand was blocked on Monday.
A Facebook spokesperson said the network had been “compelled” by the government to remove the group.
“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 platform said.
The company did not give details of the legal action but warned that such requirements would undermine its ability to reliably invest in the country.
Prayut identified self-exiled academics Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun as the men behind the group but said they were nowhere to be found in Thailand and have not taken responsibility for their actions.
Somsak and Pavin moved abroad after the 2014 coup following summons by the military junta. Pavin has identified himself as the man behind Royalist Marketplace, but there is no evidence that Somsak helps run the group.
Pavin told AFP that the page had been a place for “genuine discussion” on the monarchy, including its political role and protesters’ proposals for reforms.
He said the group’s removal by Facebook showed the company was working to “promote authoritarianism” in Thailand, and “endorsing the government’s tactic in censorship of information”.
“It has become a part of the obstruction of the democratisation process in Thailand, as well as of free speech.”
Following Facebook’s announcement that it was considering suing the Thai government for blocking the group and allegedly restricting Thai netizens’ freedom of expression, Prayut said: “Thai people should know that whatever they [Somsak and Pavin] do, they will not face the consequences in this country, but the people will.
“We have to deal with these kinds of online groups and pages with the law, not an alleged dictatorship.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai said the Digital Economy and Society Ministry had followed Thai law by demanding that Facebook block pages or groups that criticise the monarchy, adding that international law was another matter.
Human Rights Watch slammed Thailand for using “rights-abusing laws” to crackdown on freedom of expression.
Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton said: “Facebook should fight the government’s demands in every forum it can to protect Thai people’s human rights.”
After Royalist Marketplace was blocked in Thailand on Monday, a new group was quickly created and attracted back half of its followers (approximately 500,000) in less than 24 hours.
THE NATION (THAILAND)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP