Brazil judge bans messaging app Telegram for ignoring ruling

A justice of Brazil's top court has ordered the messaging app Telegram to be shut down nationwide

Brazil Bolsonaro
Brazil Bolsonaro

A justice of Brazil's Supreme Court on Friday ordered the shutdown of messaging app Telegram nationwide, arguing it has not cooperated with authorities. The move is a blow to President Jair Bolsonaro, who has more than 1 million followers on the platform and defends it as a key tool for his reelection bid in October.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in his ruling that Telegram repeatedly ignored requests from Brazilian authorities, including a police request to block profiles and provide information linked to blogger Allan dos Santos, an ally of Bolsonaro's accused of spreading falsehoods.

The justice added that Telegram has also failed to name a legal representative in Brazil, unlike its competitors.

Many of Bolsonaro’s supporters have turned to Telegram since the messaging app’s competitor WhatsApp changed its policies on message sharing. The president has often accused de Moraes and Brazil’s top court of rulings that go against freedom of speech.

De Moraes, who chairs a probe on misinformation in Brazilian social media, issued a warrant for dos Santos' arrest in October. The activist, a fugitive now based in the United States, has remained active on Telegram, though.

“The Telegram platform, in every possible opportunity, failed to heed judicial orders in a total disregard for the Brazilian judiciary,” de Moraes said in his ruling. He added the suggestion to shut down the app came from federal police.

Dos Santos said de Moraes' decisions “are based solely on his will.”

“At some point he will have to stop or to be stopped,” the blogger told Jovem Pan, a radio and TV channel which broadcasts Bolsonaro's live transmissions every week. “I don't believe the Brazilian people will accept these atrocities.”

The justice said in his ruling that “the complete and full suspension of the works of Telegram in Brazil will remain until the judicial decisions previously issued are carried out.”

De Moraes gave Apple, Google and Brazilian phone carriers five days to block Telegram from their platforms.

Bolsonaro and his allies have encouraged followers to join Telegram since January of 2021 __ the same month former U.S. President Donald Trump, an inspiration for the Brazilian leader, was permanently suspended from Twitter in the wake of the riot at Capitol Hill.

In January, Bolsonaro was asked by supporters what he thought about investigations into Telegram.

“It is cowardice what they are trying to do to Brazil,” he responded.

One of the messaging app’s founders, Pavel Durov, said in a statement that Telegram “had an issue with emails going between our telegram.org corporate addresses and the Brazilian Supreme Court. As a result of this miscommunication, the Court ruled to ban Telegram for being unresponsive.”

“I apologize to the Brazilian Supreme Court for our negligence. We definitely could have done a better job,” Durov said.

“We complied with an earlier court decision in late February and responded with a suggestion to send future takedown requests to a dedicated email address. Unfortunately, our response must have been lost, because the court used the old general-purpose email address in further attempts to reach us.”

Durov also asked the court to “consider delaying its ruling for a few days at its discretion to allow us to remedy the situation by appointing a representative in Brazil and setting up a framework to react to future pressing issues like this in an expedited manner.”

The service remained operational Friday afternoon.

In his ruling, de Moraes also mentions Telegram failing to remove misleading content from the president's page on the country's electronic voting system.

While Bolsonaro's Telegram page has more than 1 million followers, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the frontrunner to October's presidential elections, has 48,000.

Members of Brazil's electoral authority have expressed concern about Telegram's long silence amid Bolsonaro's unfounded claims that the election will be rigged unless printed receipts for votes are instituted.

The latest request from Brazilian authorities seeking Telegram's cooperation came on March 9, when the chairman of the electoral authority wrote to Durov.

His predecessor also tried to reach Telegram leaders on Dec. 16. Brazil’s electoral authority said at the time that Durov was not found at the company’s headquarters in the United Arab Emirates.

One of Bolsonaro's closest allies, lawmaker Carla Zambelli, called de Moraes “a tyrant” for the decision.

“Alexandre (de Moraes) blocked Telegram, the only tool in which we currently have freedom of speech,” she said on Twitter.

This article was amended on 21 March 2022 to include the statement from Mr Durov.

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