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Facebook Blocks Group Critical of Thai King After Government Pressure


In this image taken from video, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, administrator of the Facebook group “Royalist Marketplace,” is shown delivering a pre-recorded message onscreen before a crowd attending an anti-government rally on Aug. 10, 2020, at Thammasat University in Thailand.
Facebook Blocks Group Critical of Thai King After Government Pressure
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Facebook has blocked a discussion group that includes criticism of Thailand’s monarchy after pressure from the government.

Facebook said in a statement it felt “compelled” to block the group because it contained material the Thai government considers illegal. Thailand has strict laws that prevent open discussion and criticism of the country’s monarchy.

Facebook noted the seriousness of its action, saying such government orders “have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves. The group is only blocked for Facebook users in Thailand. It is available in all other places. The company said it was preparing a legal challenge to the government request.

The Facebook group, called “Royalist Marketplace,” was created in April by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. He is a self-exiled activist and critic of the monarchy. He now lives in self-exile in Japan. Pavin said the group had reached 1 million members just a few days ago.

Phansuwan Nakeaw, center, stands outside the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, requesting that the self-exiled in Japan, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, administrator of the Facebook group “Royalist Marketplace” be deported back to Thailand.
Phansuwan Nakeaw, center, stands outside the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, requesting that the self-exiled in Japan, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, administrator of the Facebook group “Royalist Marketplace” be deported back to Thailand.

Pavin criticized Facebook for giving in to government pressure. “By accepting the requests, whether you like it or not, you become part of that, you become a part of the support that you gave to the authoritarian” government, Pavin told The Associated Press.

Pavin was not in Thailand when the country’s current prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, led a military coup in 2014. At the time, Prayuth was the army chief. Following the coup, the ruling government called on critics of the government and monarchy, including Pavin, to come forward. Pavin decided to remain outside the country. He is currently a professor at Kyoto University.

Prayuth told reporters on Tuesday the government had asked Facebook to block the page because it violates Thai law. He said the government would push back against any legal challenge to its request.

Pavin said that after the Facebook group was blocked he immediately created another one that is mostly the same. That page is called “Royalist Marketplace-Talad Luang.” The term “Talad Luang” means “Royalist Marketplace.”

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn is transported on the royal palanquin by royal bearers during the Royal Procession outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Suganya Samnangjam)
Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn is transported on the royal palanquin by royal bearers during the Royal Procession outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Suganya Samnangjam)

The new group already has more than 500,000 members. Many have moved over from the blocked page. “Our group is part of a democratization process, it is a space for freedom of expression,” Pavin told Reuters news agency.

A growing number of youth-led protests have taken place in Thailand in recent weeks in a movement partly inspired by the Hong Kong protests last year. The protesters oppose the current military-run government. In addition, activists have for the first time openly called for reforms in the monarchy system.

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn enjoys extraordinary power because he receives support from the military and the country's billionaire families. Since becoming king, he has taken direct control of the palace's fortune, estimated to be worth up to $60 billion.

The protesters are calling for more openness about the royal family’s finances and an end to the country’s defamation law related to the king. They also want to see a new parliament elected and a new constitution created.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

monarchyn. a system of government in which a country is ruled by a king and queen whose power is limited by a constitution

compelv. to force someone to do something

chilling adj. very frightening

challenge n. something that is difficult to do

authoritarian adj. enforcing or pushing for strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom​

inspire v. make someone feel that they want to do something and can do it

fortune n. a lot of money

defamation n. the action of damaging the reputation of a person or group by saying or writing bad things about them that are not true

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