Brazil Senators ask high court to bar Bolsonaro from social media

Brasília (AFP) – A Senate panel probing the Brazilian government's pandemic response asked the Supreme Court and the prosecutor general's office Tuesday to suspend President Jair Bolsonaro from social media for falsely linking Covid-19 vaccines to AIDS.

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The Senators called for the far-right leader to be barred indefinitely from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram after he cited non-existent "official reports" from the British government allegedly finding fully vaccinated people are developing AIDS "much faster than expected."

"We can no longer tolerate this type of behavior," the lawmakers said in a court filing signed by the 11-member panel's deputy chair, opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues.

The Senators called for authorities to lift the data confidentiality on Bolsonaro's social media accounts, bar him from logging in to "prevent the destruction of evidence," and order Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube owner Google, to provide normally secret information on the president's usage.

The document also called on the court to order Bolsonaro to make a retraction in a nationally televised address, "refuting any correlation between vaccination against the coronavirus and developing AIDS," or face a fine of 50,000 reais ($9,000) for every day he fails to comply.

The request came as the Senate commission, which has spent the past six months investigating the Bolsonaro government's pandemic response, prepared to vote on a damning final report that recommends the president face multiple charges, including crimes against humanity, for downplaying Covid-19 and flouting expert advice on containing it.

The pandemic has claimed more than 600,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.

'I don't want to lose Facebook'

Bolsonaro made the controversial claim Thursday in his weekly live address on Facebook, which has removed the video for violating its policies on spreading misinformation.

YouTube went a step further Monday, suspending Bolsonaro for a week, in addition to blocking the clip.

The British government denied the existence of any reports linking Covid-19 shots to AIDS, in response to an AFP fact-checking team.

Bolsonaro appeared to have taken the information from a supposed news story spreading online.

"I recommend you read the article," Bolsonaro said in his video, without saying where the information came from.

"I'm not going to read it here, because I don't want to lose my Facebook live video."

Like former US president Donald Trump, his political role model, Bolsonaro relied heavily on social media in his rise to power, and his weekly live address has been a cornerstone of his communications.

The president, who took office in January 2019, has said he does not plan to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and joked in the past the vaccine could "turn you into an alligator."

He has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the virus, fought stay-at-home measures to slow the spread and promoted treatments scientists said were ineffective.