Facebook knocks down Thai PM's claim of Zuckerberg meeting

October 19, 2017 - 6:46 am

BANGKOK (AP) — Facebook says its top executives aren't coming to Thailand, two days after the country's military ruler announced CEO Mark Zuckerberg would meet him this month.

Facebook said in a one-sentence statement Thursday "There are no plans currently for any of our senior leaders to visit Thailand."

Thailand and the social media giant have had a strained relationship this year. Facebook has irked the Thai government by being a platform for critics of the country's monarchy. In May, a Thai regulator threatened to block the popular site.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters Tuesday he was scheduled to meet with Zuckerberg on Oct. 30.

"Please don't link our meeting to any other issues," Prayuth said. "To talk and exchange opinions would be better than for us to not meet at all."

A deputy government spokesman, Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, said Thursday that Prayuth announced the meeting with Zuckerberg to reporters after he was briefed by Thailand's Board of Investment. Weerachon said he did not know exactly what was reported to the prime minister.

Thailand's military, which seized power in a 2014 coup, says safeguarding the monarchy is one of its top priorities. It has tried to stamp out criticism online, including on social media sites such as Facebook, and has aggressively enforced draconian lese majeste and computer crime laws.

The junta has been particularly sensitive to anti-monarchist sentiment following the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October last year and the succession of his less well-regarded son.

A Thai court sentenced a prominent student activist to 2 ½ years in prison on Aug. 8 after he pleaded guilty to the charge of lese majeste for sharing a BBC article about the country's new king on Facebook.

Last December, Thai authorities declared it illegal to exchange information on the internet with three prominent government critics who often write about the country's monarchy. An official statement advised all citizens not to follow, contact, share or engage in any other activity that would result in sharing information from the three, who all live outside Thailand.

Facebook, which is blocked in a number of authoritarian countries including China, has said it relies on local governments to notify it of information they deem illegal.

"If, after careful legal review, we find that the content is illegal under local law we restrict it as appropriate and report the restriction in our Government Request Report," Facebook has said in past statements outlining its policy.

Supporters of Thailand's lese-majeste law argue that the monarchy is a sacred pillar of Thai society and must be protected at all costs but critics say the law is being used to silence dissent.

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