Government threatens Facebook shutdown in Thailand

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses concerns over the state of freedom of expression in Thailand following the government’s threats to block social media site Facebook over what it calls ‘illegal content’. The IFJ calls on Facebook not to withdraw the material, and demands the Thai government end its attack on freedom of expression and the press.

On Monday May 15, Thai authorities ordered Facebook to delete 131 ‘illicit’ pages by 10am Tuesday May 16, or they would take legal action and shutdown Facebook across Thailand. The threats came after videos and images of the King of Thailand walking through a shopping mall in a crop top. According to the Thailand’s repressive ‘lèse-majesté law’ it is a crime to insult the king, the queen, or the crown prince, and is punishable with 15 years in jail.

On Tuesday May 16, the deadline passed and the secretary general of the National Broadcasting and telecommunications Commission, Takorn Tantasith, responded to the situation by saying, “We found Facebook did not block the remaining 131 posts because it has yet to receive the original court orders to block them,” Tantasith said. “After Facebook received the original court orders, it blocked them within 24 hours.”  Facebook has said in the past its general practice when responding to government requests is to determine whether the material violates local laws before restricting access. Facebook has said after the requests from the Thai Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, it restricted 40 pieces of content from last July to December that reportedly violated lèse-majesté laws.

This is not the first time there has been tension between Thailand’s government and Facebook.  Thailand’s military junta briefly blocked Facebook after its coup on 22 May 2014, and in 2016 the government asked Facebook to reveal information of three Facebook users accused of defamation of the Monarchy.  While Facebook denied this request, its recent cooperation with the Thai government causes concern for the future of internet expression in Thailand.

The IFJ said: “The IFJ is deeply concerned by Thailand’s repressive lèse-majesté law and its threats to shut down Facebook.  This behavior undermines freedom of expression and is a massive step back for Thailand.  IFJ calls on Facebook not give into such demands, as this will set a bad example for other governments hoping to follow suit by also crushing online expression.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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