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Bowing to Thai government, Facebook blocks discussion group on monarchy

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, administrator of blocked Facebook page in Thailand
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the administrator of the Facebook page Royalist Marketplace, which was recently blocked in Thailand.
(Associated Press)

Bowing to pressure from the Thai government, Facebook has blocked a group with more than a million members that engages in open discussion of the Thai monarchy, an institution staunchly protected from criticism by strict laws.

The Facebook group, called Royalist Marketplace, was blocked late Monday. “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 social media giant said in a statement.

Facebook said that while people in Thailand can no longer access the page, it is still available in other places. The company said it planned to “legally challenge” the Thai government’s request.

The shutting down of the discussion group comes as Thailand witnesses unprecedented protests against King Maha Vajiralongkorn calling for his powers to be curbed. Demonstrators, many of them young people, have turned out despite a lèse-majesté law that threatens a 15-year prison sentence for anyone found guilty of defaming the monarch.

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Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a 49-year-old academic who created the Facebook group in April, bemoaned the company’s decision and quickly set up a similar Facebook group that already has hundreds of thousands of members.

“I’m furious, you know, because this is something that I am passionate about. I am passionate because I just want to see Thailand becoming more and more democratic,” Pavin, who lives in exile in Japan, said in an online interview.

Pavin was not in Thailand when the country’s current prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, orchestrated a military coup in 2014, when he was the army chief. Following the coup, the ruling junta summoned critics of the government and monarchy, including Pavin, who decided to remain abroad.

Pavin, who is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, said Royalist Marketplace achieved 1 million members just a few days ago. He criticized Facebook for the move.

“By accepting the requests, whether you like it or not, you become a part of that — you become a part of the support that you gave to the authoritarian regime in Thailand,” he said.

Facebook acknowledged the seriousness of blocking the page, saying that such government requests “have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves.”

Installed on a golden throne under a nine-tiered, white-and-gold umbrella resembling a wedding cake, Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned Saturday as ruler of one of the world’s most enduring monarchies in solemn, elaborate ceremonies that sought to unite a fractured nation under gilded pageantry and centuries-old ritual.

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“We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request,” the company said in its statement.

Prayuth said at a news briefing Tuesday that his government had asked Facebook to block the page because it violates Thai law. He said the government would stand firm on its stance if a legal challenge to the request is made.

Pavin said that after the Facebook group was blocked, he immediately created another one that is essentially the same called Royalist Marketplace-Talad Luang. “Talad Luang” is Thai for “Royalist Marketplace.”

The new group has already attracted more than half a million members, with many from the original one migrating over.


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