Brazilian judge opens criminal probe into Elon Musk

 April 8, 2024

A top Brazilian judge accused of trampling free speech has opened up a criminal probe into Elon Musk after the billionaire blasted the judge as a tyrant and called for his removal.

"This judge has brazenly and repeatedly betrayed the constitution and people of Brazil. He should resign or be impeached," Musk wrote on X. 

Supreme Court President Alexandre de Moraes has been championed by Brazil's left for his extraordinary actions to clamp down on "disinformation."

Most of the judge's efforts have fallen on right-wing allies of former president Jair Bolsonaro, who has been accused of orchestrating a "coup" following his narrow election loss to socialist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Judge targets Elon Musk

Under Moraes, the Brazilian Supreme Court has censored, jailed, and raided the homes of prominent Bolsonaro backers, and even seized Bolsonaro's passport. The Superior Electoral Tribunal, a separate court which Moraes runs, has barred Bolsonaro from running for office over spreading "disinformation" about the country's election system.

After Moraes ordered Musk to shutter accounts on social media site X - which Musk owns - Musk refused and said X would "publish everything demanded" by the judge "and how those requests violate Brazilian law." 

Musk said the judge's crackdown would probably shutter X in Brazil, but "principles matter more than profit."

"We are lifting all restrictions. This judge has applied massive fines, threatened to arrest our employees and cut off access to 𝕏 in Brazil," Musk warned.

"As a result, we will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there."

Free speech on the line

Moraes responded to Musk's defiance by adding him to the court's sweeping investigation into so-called "digital militias," which has targeted individuals, mostly on the right, for spreading "fake news" about the Supreme Court.

The judge also said Musk would be investigated for obstruction of justice and warned that non-compliance would cost X nearly $20,000 a day.

“The flagrant conduct of obstruction of Brazilian justice, incitement of crime, the public threat of disobedience of court orders and future lack of cooperation from the platform are facts that disrespect the sovereignty of Brazil,” de Moraes wrote Sunday.

Bolsonaro, who was recently indicted by federal police for faking his vaccination records, said freedom in Brazil "is largely in [Musk's] hands" in a live broadcast Sunday.

"The action he’s taking, what he’s been saying and he hasn’t been intimidated and has said that he’s going to put forward this idea of fighting for freedom for our country. That’s good.”

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