A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has ordered the suspension of messaging app Telegram, saying it had repeatedly refused to adhere to judicial orders to freeze accounts spreading disinformation or comply with the country’s laws, according to a copy of the ruling seen by Reuters.
In response, Telegram founder and chief executive Pavel Durov apologised for the company’s “negligence” and asked the court to delay its ruling for a few days as it sought to improve compliance.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters have increasingly relied upon Telegram as a form of mass communication as larger tech companies such as Meta, which owns messaging app WhatsApp, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter have adhered to Supreme Court orders to drop offending accounts over allegedly spreading disinformation.
The ruling by Justice Alexandre de Moraes represents the latest chapter in the crusading justice’s battle with Bolsonaro and his allies.
Moraes has been leading a series of Supreme Court investigations into Bolsonaro and his supporters for disseminating fake news – probes that have enraged many on the right and raised questions about judicial overreach.
Speaking at a religious event in the western state of Acre, Bolsonaro said the court’s decision was “inadmissible”.
According to Moraes’ ruling, Telegram had repeatedly failed to block offending accounts and ignored the court’s decisions.
Durov, Telegram’s founder, blamed his company’s shortcomings on email issues, saying, “we definitely could have done a better job”.
Writing on his personal Telegram account, Durov asked the court to delay its ruling.
Moraes gave Wilson Diniz Wellisch, the head of telecoms regulator Anatel, 24 hours to implement the suspension, which would stand until Telegram complies with outstanding judicial orders, pays a series of fines and presents a country representative before the court.
Moraes also ordered Apple and Google to help block users on their platforms from being able to use Telegram in Brazil. Both Apple and Google declined to comment.
Moraes’ decision quickly faced official opposition.
Writing on Twitter, Justice Minister Anderson Torres criticised Moraes’ “monocratic” decision, which he said had “harmed millions of Brazilians”.