Update: We have added a response from the digital ministry to this article.
BANGKOK — Facebook on Tuesday said it complied with the government’s request to block access within Thailand to a group deemed critical to the monarch following a threat to sue its operation in the Kingdom.
The company also said in a statement that it is preparing to “legally challenge” the censorship order from the Thai government, which it deemed to be infringing on international human rights law, though it did not elaborate on how the legal action would proceed.
“After careful review, Facebook has determined that we are compelled to restrict access to content which the Thai government has deemed to be illegal,” the company said in a statement.
“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.”
“This speech is protected by international human rights law, including Thailand’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” the statement added.
Upon the decision, the “Royalist Marketplace” group on Facebook was inaccessible to Thai users on Monday night. The group was created in April by Kyoto-based monarchy critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun as a parody of the wave of “marketplace” groups popular among university students and alumni amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The request to Facebook came after the digital economy ministry filed a police complaint against the group admin, Pavin, and users who posted in the group last week.
The ministry’s deputy perm-sec Putchapong Nodthaisong also said last week that the group, which has more than one million users, shared false information deemed to be a threat to national security, and may cause confusion among the public.
Facebook said the government threatened to sue its office in Thailand if it refused to block access to Royalist Marketplace.
“We have done everything we can to come to a resolution that ensures people can still express themselves, whilst accommodating local laws,” it said. “However, despite our best efforts the government has declined to engage further and has threatened to pursue criminal proceedings against Facebook Thailand.”
John Sifton of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch criticized the Thai government for abusing the people’s rights to free speech, and demanded Facebook to protect the liberty of Thai people.
“Thailand’s government is again abusing its overbroad and rights-abusing laws to force Facebook to restrict content that is protected by the human right to free speech,” Sifton said in a statement. “Facebook should fight the government’s demands in every forum it can, to protect Thai people’s human rights.”
Col. Pichet Kumpeeranon, commander of a cyber police sub-division, declined to comment on the case.
Putchapong Nodthaisong, spokesman of the digital economy ministry, said the Thai government had given time for Facebook to comply with the shutdown order since April, and added that it is the court power to block access to online contents.
“We’re just enforcing court orders,” Putchapong said. “We’ve issued notices to Facebook a couple of times already. Our Computer Crime Act is similar to those of other countries, but there’re some details that are unique to the Thai context”
Public discussion about the monarchy remains a taboo in Thailand, but the situation is more freewheeling on social media used by millions of Thai users.
Although the government often failed to stop the online conversations regarding the monarchy, some social media giants like Facebook and YouTube have agreed to blocking access to some contents in the past.
Digital minister Puttipong Punnakan had said that Facebook was among the least compliant to the requests to block access; the company only responded to 1,316 of the total of 4,676 requests by the Thai authority.