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Thai Authorities Sue Social Media Giants over ‘Royally Defaming’ Content

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2020-09-24
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Thai Digital Economy and Society Minister Puttipong Punnagun (second from right), and Col. Siriwat Deepor, the deputy chief of the police Technology Crime Suppression Division (right), speak to reporters in Bangkok, Sept. 24, 2020.
Thai Digital Economy and Society Minister Puttipong Punnagun (second from right), and Col. Siriwat Deepor, the deputy chief of the police Technology Crime Suppression Division (right), speak to reporters in Bangkok, Sept. 24, 2020.
Courtesy Palang Pracharat Party

Thai authorities brought police complaints Thursday against social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for not taking down content on their platforms deemed defamatory to Thailand’s royalty, as pro-democracy protesters marched to parliament where MPs deliberated proposed amendments to the constitution.

Puttipong Punnagun, the minister for the Digital Economy and Society, presented evidence of alleged bad content to police at the Technology Crime Suppression Division and asked that they prosecute the social media platforms.

“This is the first time we used Computer Crime Act against foreign platforms for their failure to comply with Article 27,” Puttipong told reporters. The act has been used to file charges against individual users.

Puttipong said four social media platforms had responded to court orders before Aug. 26 by taking down 1,129 URLs deemed to be “royally defaming.”

Three of the platforms, meanwhile, did not fully meet the 15-day deadline to remove another 1,025 URLs deemed offensive. He said the ministry sent letters to warn them on Sept. 7 and 14.

“As of today, certain platforms cooperated with us while some failed to delete the contents completely,” he said. “Therefore, we have to prosecute them in accordance with Computer Crime Act.”

Specifically, Facebook shuttered 225 URLs, but 436 remain, Twitter closed five URLs and allowed 64 to remain while Instagram left one URL untouched, according to Puttipong. He said YouTube took down all 294 of its URLs on the list.

Puttipong has submitted a third list of more than 3,000 URLs deemed objectionable and that must be shuttered. Under Thai law, companies can be prosecuted for violations of the computer law.

“We can sue the parent companies – the platform owners who give space to people to post such content,” he said. “That may be interpreted to cover local companies, it depends on how the judicial system sees it.”

Puttipong said the law allows the international companies to negotiate a settlement settlements.

“If they have a good reason and come bargain with the police, a committee may be set up and the penalty could be a fine of 5,000 baht (U.S. $158) per piece per day, but no more 200,000 baht ($6,336) per content,” he said.

Col. Siriwat Deepor, the deputy chief of the national police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division, said he had received Puttipong’s complaints and the division would proceed with an investigation.

“They are now criminal cases under police investigation,” he said. “We have to ask Facebook Thailand whether they are aware of this wrongdoing. If they admit fault, they have to pay fine,” he told BenarNews.

“If they say the Thailand branch has nothing to do with this, but the overseas offices do, then we need to contact the (Thai) office of attorney general and the ministry of foreign affairs to proceed with legal action.”

Puttipong’s announcement came about a month after Facebook officials announced that they had reached an agreement to remove a site deemed offensive to the monarchy.

The social media giant agreed to restrict access to the Royalist Marketplace group, which had more than 1 million members and was hosted by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai lecturer at Kyoto University and noted critic of the Thai monarchy.

Despite the action, Facebook officials said they would challenge court orders to remove pages, citing such action would be an obstacle to free speech and doing business in Thailand.

“After careful review, Facebook has determined that we are compelled to restrict access to content which the Thai government has deemed to be illegal,” a spokesperson said in a statement on Aug. 25. “Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves.”

Facebook officials on Thursday did not immediately return a BenarNews request for comment on the latest action. A Twitter official declined to comment when contacted by Reuters news service.

Protest at parliament

Meanwhile, about 7,000 pro-democracy protesters closed off streets in front of the parliament through Thursday evening to pressure MPs to amend the constitution. On Wednesday, a smaller group of royalist members of the Thai Pakdee movement gathered to call for the constitution to remain unchanged.

“When the draft constitution passed the (2016) referendum, the king altered Section 1 and 2, but when we ask for changes, they disagree,” Anon Numpa, a human rights lawyer-turned-activist told the protesters.

The pro-democracy groups have been holding a series of rallies since July calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to resign, to have the constitution rewritten and to reform the monarchy.

Last weekend, police and organizers said more than 100,000 protesters rallied at the Royal Grounds and then marched to the Privy Council building the next day to present their concerns. The organizers placed a plaque at the Royal Grounds declaring the country belongs to the people and not the monarchy. They also gave a letter to the metropolitan police chief to be delivered to the king asking him to accept political reform.

Thai police said they are holding the plaque, which was removed on Monday, as evidence.

While the protesters gathered outside, MPs were inside the parliament building voting to establish a committee to study six recommendations to amend the constitution and file a report within one month.

Finishing their two-day debate on the constitution, the MPs voted  431 to 255 with 28 abstentions on Thursday to establish the committee to review five recommendations from opposition MPs and one from Prayuth’s governing coalition. The house speaker dropped a recommendation from the people.

Meanwhile, protest organizers said they planned to rally next month if their demands are not met by Sept. 30.

“The people have come here to show their power in front of the parliament,” protester Nawat Yamwattana told the Associated Press. “The members of parliament and senators must listen to the people’s voices.”

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