Royalist Marketplace to face criminal charges

Caption: Political cartoon of Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun discussing Royalist Marketplace signs which are everywhere. Source: Kai Meaw X

Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) has filed a complaint with the Technology Crime Supression Division (TCSD) to prosecute Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai professor in exile and the admin of a Facebook group which has more than 1 million monachy reformists as supporters.

BBC Thai reported that the complaint was filed by Putchapong Nodthaisong, spokesperson and Deputy Permanent Secretary of the MDES on behalf the Minister Puttipong Punnakanta. Invoking Section 14 (3) of the Computer Crime Act, the spokesperson said at a press conference that the Facebook group Royalist Marketplace has imported criminal information which involves threats to national security or terrorism. So far, MDES have spotted six offenses in the Facebook group.

The spokesperson particularly mentioned Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai professor who remains in exile in Japan. He also warned against sharing any illegal information which could be prosecuted under Section 14 (5) of the Computer Crime Act with a 5-year prison sentence and 100,000 baht fine as the ministry has opened a channel for volunteers to report illegal activities online.

TCSD police said they have received the complaint and will proceed as required by law. However, prosecution will be difficult because of complications in the extradition process.

According to BBC Thai, Royalist Marketplace was founded on 16 April 2020. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the group founder, said on his personal Facebook page that his original intention was to make fun of other marketplace groups opened for people to buy and sell products during the Covid-19 outbreak. Since then, it has become the place where people have honest discussions about the monarchy and it has exceeded his expectations that members have reached 1 million.

Pavin said he believed that the group has played a role in empowering people to call for monarchy reform in the recent protests. BBC Thai reported that people have shown Pavin’s portrait and Royalist Marketplace signs in many anti-government protests since 18 July.

The Thai authorities have been working hard to combat alleged lèse majesté comments. On 4 August, Puttipong Punnakanta, Minister of the Digital Economy and Society (DES), said that any internet platforms can be charged with not complying with orders from the Thai authorities and may face penalties of up to 200,000 baht and an additional 5,000 baht per day until the orders are observed according to Section 27 of the Computer Crime Act.

Recently, Facebook has been the main target. On 30 July, Puttipong said that Facebook had deleted only 1,316 posts out of 4,767 requests despite court orders. He also compared Facebook with YouTube which was more cooperative as it had deleted 1,505 URLs out of 1,616 requests. On 1 August, Sermsuk Kasitipradit, a royalist reporter, said that there was a court order to close Royalist Marketplace since June, but Facebook has taken no action.

Facebook was also told to apologize to Thai PBS for their auto-translation inaccuracy which resulted in a mistranslated headline from English to Thai about royal activities on the King’s birthday.  According to the Bangkok Post, Facebook said it has temporarily deactiviated its translation function on Facebook and Instragram and they offered apologies while Thai PBS was filing a complaint with the TCSD for the allegedly illegal auto-translation.