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Brazil judge bans messaging app Telegram for ignoring ruling

SAO PAULO (AP) – 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 one million followers on the platform and defends it as a key tool for his re-election 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 last October. The activist, a fugitive now based in the United States (US), has remained active on Telegram, though.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro looks at his cell phone as he arrives for a flag hoisting ceremony outside Alvorada palace, in Brasilia. PHOTO: AP

“The Telegram platform, at 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 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 US 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.