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Thailand Tones Down Threat to Ban Facebook

Nontarat Phaicharoen
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Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, talks to reporters about Facebook access, May 16, 2017.
Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, talks to reporters about Facebook access, May 16, 2017.

Thailand’s military government on Tuesday toned down threats to block online access to Facebook, saying the social networking giant has cooperated in removing thousands of website links to content deemed as violating the nation’s strict royal defamation law.

Last week Thai broadcast regulators gave Facebook a Tuesday deadline to take down more than 130 posts on its network that were seen as breaches of the so-called Lese-Majeste law and Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, or face legal action that could lead to Facebook being banned in the country.

But the government instead will provide Facebook with court orders, and it expects the company to comply, the secretary-general of Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) told reporters on Tuesday.

“Facebook closed over 6,300 URLs in the past three years. … Facebook was very cooperative,” Takorn Tantasith said after visiting the Thai Internet Service Providers’ Association to monitor how Facebook had handled the government’s requests.

He expressed confidence that Facebook, after receiving court orders, would shut down the 131 prohibited pages and other content items that are still accessible.

“Facebook has a Thai law firm to help translate court orders. Once they are translated and authenticated, Facebook will close the implicated websites,” Takorn said.

When government officials believe that an Internet posting violates their country’s laws, they may ask the company to restrict access to that content, said Clare Wareing, a Singapore-based spokeswoman for Facebook.

When we receive such a request, we review it to determine if it puts us on notice of unlawful content,” Wareing told BenarNews in an emailed statement. “If we determine that it does, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory and notify people who try to access it why it is restricted.”

Also on Tuesday, Morakot Kulthamyothin, president of the Thai Internet Service Providers’ Association, said that Facebook representatives had informed her earlier that they needed original court orders as supporting evidence before they could respond to requests to shut down the web links. She said the 131 links remained accessible.

‘Constantly looking over their shoulder’

Rights advocacy groups view Thailand’s looming threat to shut down Facebook as the newest effort by the junta to restrict online speech and free expression.

The threat against Facebook means that users “will be constantly looking over their shoulder in fear that they could be sent to jail for posting or sharing commentary about the monarchy,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Tuesday.

Last month, the government banned Thais from interacting online with three outspoken critics of the monarchy.

The royal defamation law carries a maximum jail term of 15 years. It forbids anyone from making insults against the king and members of his family.

Since the military seized power in a coup on May 22, 2014, Thai authorities have arrested at least 79 people on suspicion of defaming the royalty, and only bailed out 18 of them, according to local NGO iLaw.

“When Thai authorities slap Facebook with shutdown threat, it becomes clear that they are willing to take extreme measures to clamp down on any speech they arbitrarily deem is critical of the monarchy,” Adams said.

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