Thai pro-democracy activist and lawyer Anon Numpa flashes the three-fingered salute after release from Bangkok Remand Prison in the early hours of Nov. 3. (Photo: AFP)
A French national who has been staying in Thailand for 14 years has been threatened by immigration authorities with having his visa revoked because of Facebook posts in which the foreigner has been critical of the Thai government.
Yan Eric Marchal, 47, was reportedly told by officials at an immigration center in Bangkok that his visa had been canceled because he was going to be deported over comments he had made online.
“[An official] told me that I would be deported. The reason given was my Facebook activity,” the Frenchman said in a post on social media.
“I could see that he has a file with a detailed report on my posts, although he did not let me read the details.
“The message that I felt the inspector was willing to deliver, although he would not [say] it, was that I had to be less opinionated on Facebook if I wanted to stay in Thailand. I was specifically asked to delete two posts, which I did.”
On his Facebook page, where he has more than 31,000 followers, the Frenchman has been an outspoken supporter of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, which has been seeking to force Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign.
Marchal has also been posting comments critical of Prayut, a former junta leader who seized power in a coup in 2014.
“I knew there’s a risk,” Marchal noted, referring to the fact that as a foreign national he can be stripped of his long-term visa any time by Thai authorities over his outspoken political stance.
“Since we [foreigners] are here on a visa, it’s a risk that we face if they want to revoke it. But I [prefer] to be outspoken anyway because that is my nature.”
In the face of publicity involving Marchal’s case, Thai immigration authorities appear to have backed down, at least for now. They reportedly told the Frenchman’s lawyer that it had been a “misunderstanding” and he could continue to remain in the country.
However, the incident has served as further proof that foreigners in Thailand do not enjoy the same freedoms of speech and expression to which they may be accustomed back home.
In September, Wesley Barnes, a 37-year-old American man who worked as an English teacher in Thailand, was arrested for having posted negative reviews of a resort on the island of Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand where he stayed in June.
Barnes was sued for defamation by the resort’s management and detained by immigration police officers at his workplace in Bangkok.
The American was facing the prospect of being jailed over his critical reviews on social media in a case that drew international attention and widespread condemnation.
He was forced to apologize in public to the resort, which said that “we chose to file a complaint [against him] to serve as a deterrent as we understood he may continue to write negative reviews week after week for the foreseeable future.”
Thai authorities place severe restrictions on freedom of speech with several draconian laws including a Computer Crime Act, defamation and lese majeste laws.
Rights advocates say these laws serve to protect the autocratic military-allied government and ruling elite by effectively outlawing criticism and dissent.
“Authorities in Thailand are excessively restricting freedom of expression online,” Amnesty International says.
“Rather than breaking with the established pattern of criminalizing content critical of the authorities, the government is continuing to prosecute people simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression online and harassing and intimidating online users.
“Since the [parliamentary] elections of March 2019, the authorities have continued to file criminal charges against individuals who find fault with their performance — whether they criticize the police, the military or the Election Commission of Thailand.
“People scrutinizing the activities of these government bodies and calling for justice are facing years in prison and huge fines.”