Facebook blocks access to group critical of Thai monarchy

Facebook has blocked a million-member group discussing the Thailand Monarchy, after the Thai government threatened legal action.

Thailand is seeing a wave of anti-government protests which have included unprecedented calls for reforms to the monarchy.

Criticism of the monarchy is illegal in Thailand.

Access from within Thailand to the “Royalist Marketplace” group was blocked on Monday evening. However, the page can still be accessed from outside the country.

Group admin Pavin Chachavalpongpun said the group “provides a platform for serious discussion on the monarchy and it allows Thais to express their views freely about the monarchy, from the political intervention of the monarchy, to its intimate ties with the military in consolidating the king’s power”.

The self-exiled academic is based in Japan. A new Facebook group he set up on Monday evening gained more than 400,000 followers over night.

Thailand forcing Facebook to restrict access to the group has also been strongly criticised by rights groups.

“Thailand’s government is again abusing its overbroad and rights-abusing laws to force Facebook to restrict content that is protected by the human right to free speech,” John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Make no mistake, it is Thailand that is breaking the law here – international law protecting freedom of expression.”

Thailand’s monarchy has long been shielded from criticism under strict lese-majeste and other laws which punish insult to the royal family with up to 15 years in jail.

Thais are taught to revere the monarchy from a young age.

But that taboo was broken in recent weeks when some activists started publicly calling for reforms to the monarchy – amid wider anti-government protests.