Brazil contests court’s blockage of messaging app Telegram

The favourite communication channel of president Bolsonaro is blocked for failure to comply with orders to remove messages that contain disinformation



AFP file
AFP file

By AFP

Published: Sat 19 Mar 2022, 11:29 PM

The government of Brazil on Saturday appealed a ruling from a supreme court justice that would block the popular messaging app Telegram, a favourite communication channel of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Citing Telegram’s failure to comply with orders from Brazilian authorities and remove messages found to contain disinformation, Judge Alexandre de Moraes on Thursday ordered the app blocked immediately in Brazil.

“Telegram’s disrespect for Brazilian law and repeated failure to comply with countless court decisions... is completely incompatible with the rule of law,” wrote Moraes.

But in an appeal filed with another supreme court judge, Attorney General Bruno Bianco contended that Moraes’s ruling was “disproportionate” and should be reversed.

The decision comes as Bolsonaro, who has been gearing up to seek re-election in October, faces a slump in popularity.

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With more than a million followers on Telegram, he is counting on the app to rally his base.

Bianco, in his appeal, argued that while the judge’s ruling targets “the few being investigated, it harms the millions of users of the messaging service,” some of whom rely on it for their “subsistence”.

Moraes said Telegram had repeatedly refused to comply with rulings and requests from police, the Superior Electoral Tribunal and the Supreme Court itself.

But Bianco contended that while Brazilian law might allow such sanctions in the case of violations of privacy or certain other infractions, it does not cover the breaching of court orders.

As of late Saturday morning, Telegram was still functioning in Brazil, though mobile operators like TIM were alerting customers via text message that the app would be blocked beginning Monday.

Bolsonaro has called the suspension “inadmissible,” saying it threatens the freedoms of Brazilians.

With elections coming in October, the judicial authorities have been targeting Telegram for some time.

They have expressed particular concern at the fact that Telegram has no legal representation in Brazil and has not responded to their demands to avoid widespread dissemination of disinformation — as happened in the runup to the 2018 elections.

Following the suspension order, Telegram founder Pavel Durov, a Russian, apologised to the Supreme Court and blamed a “communication problem” that he said was due to misplaced emails.

He asked the court to postpone the order to allow time for Telegram to appoint a representative in Brazil and improve communications with the court.

The court has yet to respond.

Dubai-based Telegram is installed in some 53 per cent of Brazilian cell phones and is the fastest-growing platform in the country, according to election officials.


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