'Free Pornhub': Thai Ban on Adult Site Sparks Protests Over Censorship

In normal times, the move may have gone unnoticed. But these are not normal times in Thailand.
November 4, 2020, 10:56am
Pornbut thailand protester
A pro-democracy protester shouts during a demonstration at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society in Bangkok on November 3, 2020, after the Pornhub website was blocked by the ministry. PHOTO: Jack TAYLOR / AFP

Holding banners saying "reclaim Pornhub" and "free Pornhub," Thai pro-democracy protesters mobilized to oppose the banning of one of the largest explicit content sites in the world in the latest standoff with a government seen as out of touch with the country's youth.

Thailand has been rocked by near daily protests in recent weeks, as tens of thousands call for the resignation of the military-backed government headed by 2014 coup leader and now Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha. They are also demanding a new constitution and reforms that would curtail the powers of the king. 

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They have held fashion shows, rallies and marches, but on Tuesday took their grievances to the digital economy ministry after its minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta announced the abrupt banning of the site along with a list of others. He did not respond to requests for comment by VICE News.

Calls to attend the protest labeled the move censorship, and details on time and place were released on the same social media platforms used to organize mass gatherings calling for democratic reforms in the Southeast Asian country. On Twitter, where daily hashtags have fueled interest and attendance at demonstrations, #SavePornhub became a trending topic.

Pornography sites are normally blocked in Thailand so it is unclear why the decision was made at this time and for a specific site, though one critic claimed it was related to the uploading of a compromising video dating back years and involving the royal family. The claim could not be independently verified and Pornhub did not respond to a request for comment.

The internet has been a major battleground in the latest push for democratic reforms in Thailand. Protesters use numerous apps and platforms to schedule rallies, leaving authorities scrambling to catch up. Like other gatherings, the Pornhub prtoest was organized in hours.

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A protester holds up a sign during a demonstration at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society in Bangkok on Nov. 3, 2020 after the website Pornhub was blocked by the ministry. PHOTO: Jack TAYLOR / AFP

But the government has also been successful. It ordered Facebook to take down a group with more than a million members that discussed the monarchy, though it was recreated later. In September, the ministry also filed legal complaints against Facebook and Twitter after the two social media giants failed to comply with a court order for additional content takedowns.

Criticism of the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but the young Thai protesters have smashed taboos over the topic and are discussing the royals openly for the first time in modern Thai history. Even powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn has seemingly responded, doing his first foreign media interview in years and going on what some analysts have called a charm offensive.

In 2019, Pornhub said Thailand was among the top 20 countries for traffic globally.

Emilie Palamy Pradichit, the director of the Thailand-based human rights group Manushya Foundation, said the government is confirming its status as a "land of digital dictatorship and not a land of compromises."

In his interview on Monday, Thailand's king was asked about the protest movement and said that the country is the "land of compromise."