YouTube Blocked a Thai Rap Music Video After the Government Complained

It's the latest in a battle for free expression on and offline in Thailand.
January 6, 2021, 8:15am
Thailand, rap, protests
Rappers from anti-establishment hip hop group Rap Against Dictatorship perform on stage during a pro-democracy rally at Thammasat University in Pathum Thani, north of Bangkok, on August 10, 2020. Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP

YouTube has blocked access to a rap song in Thailand that called for the “un-fucking-elected” government to “get out,” as authorities try to stamp out dissent after months of mass protests.

The song “Reform” was inspired by pro-democracy demonstrations that started in early 2020, according to the musical collective behind it called Rap Against Dictatorship.

Like the protests, “Reform” doesn’t tiptoe around sensitive topics in the country, including the powerful monarchy, which has become a focus of calls for change despite laws criminalizing insults against the king and queen.

“It’s for reforming the system, the government, the monarchy, and all of the wrong things in Thailand,” Rap Against Dictatorship co-founder Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, popularly known as Hockhacker, told VICE World News.

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The youth-led demonstrations have called for the immense wealth of the monarchy to come under more public scrutiny, for its political powers to be curbed, and for the royal defamation law to be abolished. But in recent weeks authorities have filed dozens of cases under the law in what observers say is an attempt to end the movement.

The government has also waged battle against online dissent, such as ordering Facebook to block a group that was critical of the Thai monarchy and lodging complaints against social media platforms for refusing to take down politically sensitive posts.

The music video for “Reform” went viral on YouTube almost immediately, racking up 200,000 views in mere hours, in keeping with the hit-making success of the group’s past political songs. Since then, "Reform” has been viewed over 9.7 million times.

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In the video, different rappers deliver passionate verses, taking jabs at the establishment in scenes that appear to be shot during actual protests.

But in a tweet on Monday, the group announced their music video had been removed from YouTube “due to a legal complaint from the government.” It remains inaccessible within Thailand but viewable outside.

“Happy New Year everyone,” the tweet read. “Here is a New Year’s gift from our government.”

Dechathorn said the group also received an email from YouTube explaining that the video had been blocked after a government request.

“We don't know why [the video is] blocked in Thailand,” Dechathorn said, adding that they were not given any additional information beyond a short message citing the legal complaint.

Representatives for YouTube and the Thai Ministry of Digital Economy and Society did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Founded in 2017, Rap Against Dictatorship is known for tackling taboo social and political issues through their music. This is not the first time the edgy lyricists have gotten into trouble. In August 2020, Dechathorn was arrested for allegedly breaching internal security laws. He was released on bail.

“The government looks to us as an enemy; they follow the way of dictatorship to shut down our freedom,” Dechathorn said.