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Facebook still available in Thailand despite ban threat

Regulator says it expects website to comply with court orders for removal of content deemed to threaten security.

Facebook users in Thailand can still access their accounts despite worries that authorities would shut the social media site down if it did not remove "inappropriate" content, including pages containing alleged insults against the royal family.

Thailand's telecoms regulator said last week it would give Facebook Thailand until Tuesday to take down 131 web addresses with content that violated its strict lese majeste (violating majesty, or insulting the ruler) laws or was deemed threatening to national security.

The threat prompted a flurry of concern in the Southeast Asian country - one of the most Facebook-active countries in Asia - that the social network would be blocked.

However, there would be no immediate measures to block Facebook, Takorn Tantasith, Secretary General of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission of Thailand, told reporters after the deadline, adding that bureaucracy had held up the process of removing the 131 impugned content items.

"We have the necessary documents from the court to block 34 URLs now," Takorn said, following a visit to the head office of a grouping of internet providers in Thailand to check if Facebook had complied with the authorities' removal request.

"Facebook has cooperated well in terms of taking steps to block the URLs that we asked them to in the past," he added.

"If they cooperate, then there will be 97 URLs left which we have asked the court to issue warrants to block."

Thailand's military-run government has ramped up online censorship, particularly on perceived insults to the monarchy, since seizing power in a 2014 coup.

Last month, Thailand also banned its citizens from making any online contact with three vocal critics of the monarchy.

Under Thailand's lese majeste law, criticism of the royal family is an offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Last week, Takorn had said that the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society would file a complaint with police this week to press charges against Facebook Thailand under the Computer Crime Act and commerce ministry regulations.

Thailand's criminal court has ordered nearly 7,000 "inappropriate" web pages be shut down since 2015, according to the government figures.

Internet service providers are able to block access to most pages, but said some 600 could not be shut down because of encryption. More than half of these were on Facebook.

The UN Human Rights Council declared access to the internet to be a human right in July 2016.

David Kaye, the UN's rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has also encouraged companies to "push back" when states request a block on web pages.

"They should ask questions so they don't just do it right off the bat," he said in a recent interview. "They need to make the countries explain themselves at the very least, to mitigate the risk."

Kaye has previously criticised the Thai authorities for using lese majeste laws "as a political tool to stifle critical speech".


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