Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes on Friday ruled for the immediate suspension of popular messaging app Telegram — reports Reuters.
Moraes gave Wilson Diniz Wellisch, the head of the country’s telecoms regulator, Anatel, 24 hours to implement the suspension.
The Supreme Court Justice also ordered Apple and Google to help block Brazil’s access to Telegram on their platforms.
Moraes said in his ruling that Telegram has repeatedly refused to follow judicial orders to block accounts deemed to be spreading disinformation or comply with Brazil’s laws.
Telegram has become a key mass communication tool used by Brazil’s far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters after tech giants like Meta, Google, and Twitter agreed to the Brazilian Supreme Court’s request to ban offending accounts for allegedly spreading disinformation.
In fact, Telegram has quickly gained favour with far-right groups across the world.
Moraes’ decision is the Brazilian Justice’s latest move in his crusade against Bolsonaro and his allies. Moraes has led a series of Supreme Court probes into the latter and his supporters for spreading fake news.
According to Moraes’ ruling, Telegram had repeatedly failed to block offending accounts and ignored the court’s decisions. This isn’t the first time Brazil has blocked a popular messaging platform. Back in 2016, the country banned WhatsApp — not once, but twice.
In response to the ruling, Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov apologized for the company’s “negligence,” and asked the Supreme Court to delay its ruling for a few days as the company seeks to improve compliance.
Durov said the company’s shortcomings in compliance were caused by email issues. “We definitely could have done a better job,” he wrote on his personal Telegram account as he asked the court to stay its ruling.
“I am certain that once a reliable channel of communication is established, we’ll be able to efficiently process takedown requests for public channels that are illegal in Brazil,” wrote Durov.
Moraes’ decision was quick to spark opposition. Justice Minister Anderson Torres criticized Moraes’ “monocratic” decision on Twitter, saying it had “harmed millions of Brazilians.” Torres said he had instructed his ministry to “study a solution to restore the people’s right to use whatever social network they wish.”
The Telegram ban will stand until the platform complies with outstanding judicial orders, pays several fines, and presents a country representative before the Supreme Court.
Update March 20, 8:59pm PDT: Hours later after this story was published, Brazil’s Supreme Court lifted the ban, after Telegram had shown full compliance, reports Reuters.