Prayut Says Thailand Ready for Facebook’s Legal Challenge

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks in Rayong province on Aug. 25, 2020.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks in Rayong province on Aug. 25, 2020.

BANGKOK — The Thai government stands ready to counter any attempt by Facebook to take legal action over a recent order for the company to censor a group deemed critical to the monarchy, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said Tuesday.

Gen. Prayut said the government’s “request” to block access within Thailand to the “Royalist Marketplace” group on Facebook was carried out under Thai sovereign power. The company said earlier today it was preparing to take an unspecified legal measure in response to the censorship.

“Everything we did was in accordance with the Thai laws. I don’t have the absolute power to block contents anymore,” he told reporters after the Cabinet meeting in Rayong. “The order came from the court, so if there’s a prosecution against us, we will fight it on Thai legal grounds.”

He also lashed out at two monarchy critics overseas and accused them of running the Facebook group to instigate unrest in Thailand.

“Everyone knows who’s behind it. They’re Somsak and Pavin, right?” Prayut said, referring to exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Kyoto-based academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun.

“Have they ever been responsible for the damages caused to our nation?” the general asked.

Pavin has always identified himself as the admin behind the group, but there is no evidence that Somsak was involved; the Paris-based fugitive suffered from a stroke last year and is said to be still in recovery.

Facebook users located in Thailand were blocked from accessing the group, which had more than one million users, on Monday night after the company agreed to comply with requests to take it down from Thai authorities.

However, a new parody group run by the same admins behind “Royalist Marketplace” quickly sprang up on Facebook, and had over 500,000 people less than 24 hours after it was launched.

In a Tuesday statement, Facebook says it was compelled to restrict access following a threat by the Thai authorities to sue its business operations in the country.

The company is also preparing to “legally challenge” the order from the Thai government, which it deemed to be violating international human rights law, though it did not elaborate further.

Foreign minister Don Pramudwinai said the matter is not related to international laws since the company is doing business in the Kingdom.

“It’s not relevant,” Don said. “Facebook is operating in Thailand, so we have the power to investigate things that happened in Thailand. Anything that violates Thai laws is unacceptable.”

He also refused to comment whether the censorship order infringes the people’s freedom of expression.

“I’m not listening,” Don said. “How could they say something like that?”

A group of hardline monarchy supporters also submitted an open letter to a representative of the Japan Embassy in Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon.

They demanded the Japanese government to discharge Pavin from his teaching positions at Kyoto University and vowed to escalate their actions if their demands were not met.