A Senate panel probing Brazil’s pandemic response asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to suspend President Jair Bolsonaro from social media; as it prepared to vote on a damning report accusing him of crimes against humanity.
The senators called for the far-right leader to be barred indefinitely from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and also Instagram after he falsely alleged Covid-19 vaccines were linked to AIDS.
“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 request came as the Senate commission, which has spent the past six months investigating the government’s pandemic response, prepared to vote on a damning final report that recommends the president face nine criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, for downplaying Covid-19 and flouting expert advice on containing it.
The report finds Bolsonaro “deliberately exposed” Brazilians to “mass infection” in a disastrous attempt to reach herd immunity from the coronavirus.
The committee does not have the power to bring charges itself, and it is unlikely the attorney general or lower-house speaker — both Bolsonaro allies — will open criminal or impeachment proceedings.
But the report adds to the damage as Bolsonaro reels from his lowest-ever approval ratings, heading into an election in one year’s time that polls place him on track to lose to leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The committee hearings, broadcast live, have featured emotional witness statements; and also chilling revelations about the use of ineffective medication on “human guinea pigs.”
The pandemic has claimed more than 600,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.
– Debunked AIDS claim –
The senators’ court filing called for the authorities to lift the data confidentiality on Bolsonaro’s social media accounts; 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 high 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.
Bolsonaro made the controversial claim Thursday in his weekly social media live address.
He said “official reports” from the British government — which has debunked the claim — “suggest that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 are developing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome much faster than expected.”
Facebook 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 such reports in response to an AFP fact-checking team.
– ‘I don’t want to lose Facebook’ –
Bolsonaro appeared to have taken the information from a supposed news story spreading online.
“I recommend you read the article,” he 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 relies heavily on social media to rally his base.
Bolsonaro has had social media posts deleted numerous times in the past for spreading misinformation; and inciting people to violate social distancing policies.
However, this is the first time Facebook has taken down one of his weekly live videos; 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.“