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Brazil’s Bolsonaro hails Musk’s ‘courage’ over freedom of speech

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Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro hailed Elon Musk at a rally in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, saying the billionaire has stood up for freedom of expression — which the former president claims is at risk in his country.

Musk, whose ownership of social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has provoked widespread controversy, “is a man who really preserves freedom for all of us,” the far-right leader told the rally on Rio’s famed Copacabana beach.

Musk is under investigation in Brazil after he accused a Supreme Court justice this month of censoring social networks, calling him a “dictator” and vowing to disobey rulings to block users found to be spreading disinformation.

But Bolsonaro told his thousands of supporters on the beach Sunday that the billionaire “had the courage to show, with some evidence … where our democracy was going, how much freedom we have already lost.”

The 69-year-old also denounced a “dictatorship” in Brazil and called on supporters to “continue the fight” to defend freedom of expression.

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

Brazilian authorities are investigating whether Bolsonaro plotted an attempted coup to prevent his 2022 election opponent and current president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from assuming office in January 2023.

Online users blocked by Moraes include figures like 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 reinstate blocked accounts on X, saying: “We will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there” but “principles matter more than profit.”

He has not followed through on his threats, however, and the Brazilian office of X has said it will comply with court orders to block users spreading disinformation.

Moraes has responded to Musk’s attacks by ordering fines of 100,000 reais (around $20,000) a day for any blocked account that X reactivates.

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

“Where are the massive crowds cheering for petty tyrant @Alexandre de Voldemort and censorship in Brazil? There are none,” one X user wrote Sunday, responding to images of the rally.

“Because he is against the will of the people and, therefore, democracy,” Musk wrote in reply.

Brazil is part of a growing international debate about the limits of free speech on social media, where some say a free-for-all approach endangers democracy.

Bolsonaro’s Rio rally follows a Sao Paulo gathering of his supporters in February that researchers said attracted around 185,000 people.

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