A Brazilian Supreme Court judge on Friday ordered the nationwide shutdown of the Telegram messaging app, saying it had failed to cooperate with authorities. The move is a blow to President Jair Bolsonaro, who has more than a million subscribers to the platform and champions it as a key tool for his re-election bid in October.
Judge 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 related to blogger Allan dos Santos, an ally of Bolsonaro. accused of spreading lies.
Justice added that Telegram also failed to appoint a legal representative in Brazil, unlike its competitors.
Many Bolsonaro supporters have turned to Telegram since rival messaging app WhatsApp changed its message sharing policies. The president has often accused de Moraes and Brazil’s highest court of rulings that violate freedom of expression.
De Moraes, who chairs an investigation into Brazilian social media misinformation, issued an arrest warrant for dos Santos in October. The activist, a fugitive now based in the United States, however, remained active on Telegram.
“The Telegram platform, at every possible opportunity, has disregarded court orders in complete disregard of Brazilian justice,” de Moraes said in his decision. He added that the suggestion to shut down the app came from the federal police.
Dos Santos said de Moraes’ decisions “are solely based on his will”.
“At some point he will have to stop or be stopped,” the blogger told Jovem Pan, a radio and TV channel that airs Bolsonaro’s live transmissions weekly. “I don’t believe that the Brazilian people will accept these atrocities.”
The judge said in his decision that “the complete and total suspension of the work of Telegram in Brazil will remain until the judicial decisions previously rendered are executed”.
De Moraes gave Apple, Google and Brazilian telephone operators five days to block Telegram from their platforms.
Bolsonaro and his allies have been encouraging subscribers to join Telegram since January 2021 __ the same month former US President Donald Trump, an inspiration to the Brazilian leader, was permanently suspended from Twitter following the riot at the Capitol.
In January, Bolsonaro was asked by supporters what he thought of the Telegram investigations.
“It’s cowardice what they are trying to do in Brazil,” he replied.
One of the messaging app’s founders, Pavel Durov, said in a statement that Telegram “had an issue with emails being exchanged between our corporate telegram.org addresses and the Brazilian Supreme Court. At the Following this miscommunication, the Court decided to ban Telegram for not responding.
“I apologize to the Supreme Court of Brazil for our negligence. We definitely could have done a better job,” Durov said. “We complied with an earlier court ruling in late February and responded by suggesting that future withdrawal requests be sent to a dedicated email address. Unfortunately, our response must have been lost, as the Court used the old general purpose email address in further attempts to reach us.
Durov also asked the court “to consider postponing its decision for a few days at its discretion to allow us to remedy the situation by appointing a representative in Brazil and putting in place a framework to quickly respond to future pressing issues such as this. -this”.
The service remained operational Friday evening.
In his ruling, de Moraes also mentions that Telegram failed to remove misleading content from the president’s page on the country’s electronic voting system.
While Bolsonaro’s Telegram page has more than a million subscribers, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, frontrunner in the October presidential elections, has 48,000.
Members of Brazil’s electoral authority have expressed concern over Telegram’s long silence amid Bolsonaro’s unsubstantiated claims that the election will be rigged unless printed receipts for votes are instituted.
The latest request from Brazilian authorities for Telegram’s cooperation came on March 9, when the president of the electoral authority wrote to Durov.
His predecessor also attempted to reach Telegram executives on December 16. Brazil’s electoral authority said at the time that Durov had not been 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 will “immediately seek a solution to restore the people’s right to use the social media of their choice.”
One of Bolsonaro’s closest allies, lawmaker Carla Zambelli, called Moraes a “tyrant” for the decision.
Fact-checking website Aos Fatos, which monitors dozens of pro-Bolsonaro social media channels, said several supporters of the Brazilian president were sharing tutorials on how to set up virtual private networks (VPNs) so that they can continue to use Telegram. Other Bolsonaros have vowed to continue sharing their messages on the messaging app Gettr, which was founded by former Trump adviser Jason Miller.