On Friday, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge ordered the closure of the nationwide messaging app Telegram, arguing that it had not cooperated with the authorities. The move is a blow to President Zaire Bolsonaro, who has more than 1 million followers on his platform and has defended it as a key tool in his bid for re-election in October. Justice Alexandre de Mores said in his ruling that Telegram had repeatedly ignored requests from Brazilian authorities, including blocking profiles and providing information linked to Bolsonaro’s associate blogger Alan dos Santos, for allegedly spreading lies.
Justice added that Telegram 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 policy on message sharing. The president has often accused De Moraes and Brazil’s top court of ruling against freedom of speech.
De Moraes, who presided over an investigation into misinformation on Brazilian social media, issued a warrant for Dos Santos’ arrest in October. The worker, a fugitive, is now in the United States, although active in the telegram.
“The Telegram platform, at every possible opportunity, has failed to comply with the judicial order in complete disregard for the Brazilian judiciary,” de Morris said in his ruling. He added that the suggestion to close the app came from the federal police.
Dos Santos said de Mores’s decisions were “solely based on his will.”
“At some point he has to stop or shut down,” Blogger Jovem told Pan, a radio and TV channel that broadcasts Bolsonaro’s live broadcasts every week. “I do not believe the people of Brazil will accept this atrocity.”
The judge ruled that “telegram operations in Brazil will remain suspended until further notice.”
De Morris gave Apple, Google and Brazilian phone carriers five days to block telegrams from their platforms.
Bolsonaro and his associates have been urging followers to join the telegram since January 2021 – the same month that former US President Donald Trump, inspired by the Brazilian leader, was permanently suspended from Twitter in the wake of the Capitol Hill riots.
In January, Balsonaro was asked by supporters what he thought of the Telegram investigation.
“What they are trying to do with Brazil is cowardice,” he responded.
Pavel Durav, one of the founders of the messaging app, said in a statement that Telegram “had problems with our telegram.org corporate address and emails between the Brazilian Supreme Court. As a result of this miscommunication, the court ruled that Telegram should be banned for non-response. “
“I apologize to the Brazilian Supreme Court for our negligence. We could have done better, “Durv said.” We accepted an earlier court decision in late February and responded by suggesting that we send a future takedown request to a dedicated email address. ” The attempt used the old general-purpose email address. “
Durv asked the court to “consider delaying its judgment for a few days at a time so that we can remedy the situation by appointing a representative in Brazil and creating a framework for a quick response to such pressure issues in the future.”
The service was open on Friday evening.
In his ruling, de Moraes also noted the failure of the telegram to remove misleading content from the President’s page in the country’s electronic voting system.
With more than 1 million followers on Balsonaro’s telegram page, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, leading the October presidential election, has 48,000 followers.
Members of Brazil’s electoral authorities have expressed concern over Bolsonaro’s lengthy silence on the telegram amid baseless claims that the election will be rigged if printed receipts for voting are not established.
The latest request from the Brazilian authorities for Telegram’s cooperation came on March 9, when the chairman of the Electoral Authority wrote a letter to Durab.
His predecessor also tried to reach the telegram leaders on 16 December. Brazilian election officials said at the time that Durav was not found at the company’s headquarters in the United Arab Emirates.
Brazilian Justice Minister Anderson Torres criticized the decision on Twitter, saying the Bolsonaro administration would “seek an immediate solution to restore the people’s right to use social media of their choice.”
Lawmaker Carla Zambeli, one of Balsonaro’s close allies, called De Moraes “an oppressor” for the decision.
Fact-checking website Aos Fatos, which monitors dozens of pro-Bolsonaro social media channels, says several supporters of the Brazilian president are sharing tutorials on how to install a virtual private network (VPN) so they can continue using the telegram. Bolsonaro promised to share their messages on the messaging app Gettr, founded by former Trump adviser Jason Miller.