Google complies with Thai govt’s war on anti-royal content

Google complies with Thai govt's war on anti-royal content
Mourners gather outside of the Grand Palace to sing for a recording of the royal anthem in honour of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok, Thailand, October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s government met with representatives from Internet giant Google, amid growing calls from Thai hardline royalists to bring those who insult the monarchy to justice, as many Thais look with uncertainty to a future without their revered king.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death on Oct. 13 has thrown the country of 67 million into mourning. It has also led to the rise of ultra-royalist vigilante groups who say they will punish anyone perceived to have insulted the monarchy during a highly sensitive time for Thailand.

Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong said he met with Google representatives in Bangkok on Friday. Google affirmed in the meeting that it would continue to help the government remove content from YouTube, a Google subsidiary, that it deemed offensive, he said.

“If any website is inappropriate they said to get in touch with them and inform them of the URL and the time the content was found,” Prajin told reporters.

That conforms with Google’s practice around the world, Google says.

“We have always had clear and consistent policies for removal requests from governments around the world and we continue to operate in line with those policies,” a Google spokesperson in California told Reuters on Friday.

“When we are notified of content that is illegal through official processes, we will restrict it in the country where it’s illegal after a thorough review.”

Named and shamed

Thailand’s military government said on Tuesday it was tracking people suspected of insulting the monarchy following the king’s death and would ask other countries to extradite them.

Some critics of the monarchy living abroad have been named and shamed in Thai language web forums. Outside the world of the web, some Thais who have chosen not to wear black, the official colour of mourning, have been publicly jeered at.

Thailand’s military government has tried to seek tighter censorship of social media from Facebook, Google and Japan-based instant messenger service Line since it came to power in 2014 following a coup it said was necessary to restore peace to the country following months of unrest.

Thailand’s royal insult law, known as Article 112 in the criminal code, makes it a crime to insult the king, queen, heir or regent. Those who are found guilty face up to 15 years in prison.

The law has curtailed public discussion about the monarchy’s role and its future following the death of King Bhumibol who ruled for seven decades and was seen as a unifying figure.

Since taking power in 2014, the junta, known officially as the National Council for Peace and Order, has taken a tough stance on dissenters.

It has come under strong criticism from the international community for lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by military courts against civilians for violating the lese-majeste law since the junta took power.

The military government has repeatedly rejected accusations of rights violations.

(Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak. Additional reporting by Jonathan Weber in San Francisco and Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore.; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre.; Editing by Bill Tarrant.)

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