Thailand: a pro-democracy Facebook group closed by order of power, the social network contests

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BANGKOK | Facebook will “challenge” an order from the Thai government which “forced” it to shut down a very popular group dedicated to the pro-democracy movement underway in the kingdom, the US giant said on Tuesday.

A growing wave of demonstrations has swept over the Southeast Asian country since July, against the government, considered illegitimate, but also the monarchy, a subject hitherto taboo.

The “Royalist Marketplace” group created in April had more than one million members when its access was blocked by Facebook on Monday.

The social network was “forced” to take this decision, on the order of the Thai government, a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.

Requests like this “contravene international law (…). We are working to protect and defend the rights of all Internet users and we are preparing to legally challenge this request, ”he added without giving further details.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai activist in exile in Japan and moderator of this group, told AFP that he had allowed “real discussions” on the monarchy, its role and avenues for reform.

According to Pavin, the group’s closure shows that Facebook is working to “promote authoritarianism” in Thailand and “approve of the government’s tactics on information censorship.”

It is “obstruction to the democratization process in Thailand, as well as to freedom of expression,” he added.

On Tuesday morning, lawyer Anon Numpa, one of the main figures of the movement, was arrested for the third time in a few weeks.

Since the protests began, 11 activists have been arrested on a dozen grounds, including sedition and violating the health emergency law.

The monarchy is an extremely sensitive subject in Thailand, where the king and his family are protected by a very severe libel law punishing up to 15 years in prison any criticism against him.

With an estimated fortune of $ 60 billion, the monarch Maha Vajiralongkorn, known as Rama X, has since his accession to the throne in 2016 brought about unprecedented changes to the governance of the country by taking direct control of royal assets and placing units of the army directly under his command.

Thai protesters, modeled on young Hong Kongers, also attack Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who carried out a coup in 2014 and who has remained in power following contested elections in 2019.

The demonstrators are demanding his resignation, the dissolution of Parliament and the rewriting of the 2017 Constitution which gives very broad power to the 250 senators, all chosen by the army.

The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the use by the Thai authorities of “laws violating rights” and freedom of expression.

“Facebook should fight government demands in all possible forums to protect the human rights of the Thai people,” said John Sifton, HRW director for Asia.

A small pro-royalist protest also took place on Tuesday outside the Japanese embassy in Bangkok to ask Tokyo to return Pavin to Thailand for trial under the royal defamation law.

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