The social media company said it was “compelled” by the Thai government to prevent users in Thailand accessing Royalist Marketplace — a group with 1 million members featuring posts about the Thai royal family. Facebook said the government had deemed the content “to be illegal.”
“Requests like this are severe, contravene international human rights law, and have a chilling effect on people’s ability to express themselves,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Business. “We work to protect and defend the rights of all internet users and are preparing to legally challenge this request.”
News of the group being blocked was first reported by Reuters.Facebook (FB) said it has been under pressure from the Thai government to restrict some types of political speech in the country, with the government threatening criminal proceedings against Facebook’s representatives in Thailand.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday defended the actions of the government in asking for the Royalist Marketplace to be blocked and threatening legal action.
“There is no such thing as special dictatorial power used in this case. The court’s order has been properly obtained,” Prayut said.
“Thailand has its own laws and everyone has to respect the laws of each country,” he added.
Under Thai law, defaming the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent can mean a 15-year jail sentence. The law has increasingly been used as a political tool, as ordinary Thai citizens — as well as the government — can bring charges on behalf of the King. Despite that, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the country’s capital, Bangkok, in recent days, with some demanding reform of the country’s monarchy.
Royalist Marketplace was started by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an exiled Thai dissident based in Japan. Pavin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN, but told Reuters that Facebook was “cooperating with the authoritarian regime to obstruct democracy and cultivating authoritarianism in Thailand.”
It’s the latest clash between Facebook and authorities around the world. The company is also facing parliamentary scrutiny in India, after a report last week by the Wall Street Journal revealed that a politician from India’s ruling party was allowed to remain on the platform despite flouting Facebook’s hate speech rules. In the United States, Facebook’s decision to label some posts by President Donald Trump and take down posts by his campaign have sparked further controversy.
— CNN’s Kocha Olarn contributed to this article.