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Brazil’s Bolsonaro holds a rally in Rio against the ‘threat’ to free speech

Brazil’s ex-president Jair Bolsonaro will rally supporters in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday to defend freedom of expression, which he says is under threat in the country – Copyright AFP/File Pablo PORCIUNCULA

Lucia LACURCIA

Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro will rally supporters in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday to defend freedom of expression, which he says is under threat in the country as tech mogul Elon Musk faces a legal showdown there over claims of censorship and disinformation.

The rally is scheduled for 10am (1pm GMT) on Sunday at Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach.

“The whole world is aware of how threatened our freedom of expression is,” the 69-year-old far-right leader said in a video posted to his social media accounts on Thursday.

“Let us do our peaceful act, in defense of democracy and for our freedom, without any signs or banners,” he added.

Brazilian authorities are investigating whether Bolsonaro plotted an attempted coup to prevent his opponent in the 2022 elections and current President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from coming to power in January 2023.

Bolsonaro has been barred from public office for eight years for baselessly trashing Brazil’s voting system ahead of the 2022 elections.

Last month, federal police also recommended that he be charged with falsifying his Covid-19 vaccination records. He has denied all charges against him.

Musk, the billionaire owner of social media platform ignore to block users who spread misinformation. .

The judge, Alexandre de Moraes, has waged a crusade against disinformation, especially attempts by far-right Bolsonaro supporters to discredit Brazil’s voting system.

The users blocked by Moraes include far-right ex-congressman Daniel Silveira, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2022 on charges of leading a movement to overthrow the Supreme Court.

Musk had vowed to restore frozen accounts, saying: “We will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to close our office there,” but “principles are more important than profits.”

However, he has not followed through on his threats and X’s Brazilian office has said it will comply with court orders to prevent users from spreading disinformation.

Moraes has responded to Musk’s attacks by imposing fines of 100,000 reais (about $20,000) per day for each blocked account that X reactivates.

Moraes accused Musk of “criminal instrumentalization” of the platform and also placed the Tesla and SpaceX boss under investigation for crimes including conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Brazil is part of a growing international debate over the limits of freedom of expression on social media, with some saying allowing freedoms endangers democracy.

Bolsonaro’s rally in Rio planned for Sunday follows a rally of his supporters in Sao Paulo in February that drew about 185,000 people, according to investigators.