Brazilian judge bans Telegram app amid school attacks inquiry

BRASILIA – A judge in Brazil on Wednesday ordered that messaging app Telegram be blocked throughout the country as the authorities investigate neo-Nazi groups that they say have used the platform to incite attacks.

The Federal Police requested that the app be suspended because Telegram failed to comply with court orders demanding complete user data from two anti-Semitic group chats.

The company told police that the groups had been deleted and that it could not recover the data.

Judge Wellington Lopes da Silva ordered the app shut down and imposed a fine of US$200,000 (S$267,000) per day against it for non-compliance with previous court decisions.

He also ordered Google and Apple to remove the app from their stores in Brazil and mobile carriers to block access to it in the country.

The court order against Telegram follows a series of aggressive moves by the Brazilian authorities to hold media and messaging companies accountable for what users post on their platforms.

In 2022, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered a ban on Telegram because it had not fully responded to previous orders to remove the accounts of a prominent supporter of former president Jair Bolsonaro.

In 2015 and 2016, local judges in Brazil suspended WhatsApp four times under similar circumstances, but those decisions were quickly overturned.

Judge Silva said on Wednesday that Telegram had no justification for disobeying the user data subpoena.

“This company only partially complied with the court order addressed to it since it limited itself to providing information concerning the administrator (and not all users) of the ‘Brazilian Anti-Semitic Movement' channel, failing, moreover, to data of users of the ‘Anti-Semitic Front' group,” the judge wrote.

The court was to subpoenas to the companies on Wednesday evening, and Judge Silva said they should take the app down as soon as they formally received the orders.

A lawyer for Telegram in Brazil did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but Telegram can appeal the order to a higher court.

Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino is leading a federal initiative to fight a rise of violent episodes and threats of violence against schools in Brazil.

In recent weeks, the Federal Police have arrested 302 people suspected of threatening or planning school massacres, and an additional 1,738 cases are under investigation.

“The so-called anti-Semitic movement is acting in these networks,” Mr Dino said at a news conference on Wednesday. “And we know that this is at the base of violence against our children, our teens.”

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