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Watch: Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski and Journalist Michael Shellenberger Testify on Brazil Censorship Demands

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During a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on Brazil’s censorship demands to American social media companies, Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski, American investigative journalist Michael Shellenberger, and Brazilian investigative journalist Paulo Figueiredo highlighted the troubling censorship demands and pressure they had been subject to from countries outside the US.

In his opening statement, Pavlovski, whose company is known for its staunch support of free speech, warned that the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression are being threatened by government censorship demands and provided a detailed account of the censorship pressures faced by Rumble. He drew attention to the alarming requests from various countries to suppress content that, although unpopular, did not violate Rumble’s guidelines.

“We were surprised in 2022 when we received a request from the French government to block certain news sources,” Pavlvoski said. “Rather than comply, we simply disabled access to the platform in France and challenged the legality of this demand.”

He also provided details on Brazil’s escalating censorship demands: “Earlier this year, we received requests from the Brazilian government to remove certain creators from our platform. Again, the content did not violate our terms and conditions, but instead shared opinions that were ‘unpopular’ in Brazil at the time.”

Rumble again took a bold step by not complying and instead choosing to disable access in Brazil while legally contesting the demands.

He concluded his opening remarks by criticizing the US for failing to defend freedom of speech and protect American businesses that attempt to uphold this right in Brazil and urged America to “step up and take a leading role” to combat the “out of control” censorship demands from foreign countries.

“Every totalitarian regime that has crushed the rights of individuals, has sought to control what people can say and hear,” Pavlovski warned. “It’s never the good guys doing the censoring. If the United States won’t stand up for freedom of speech – who will?”

Shellenberger delivered a detailed condemnation of Brazil’s handling of censorship under the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in his opening statement.

He detailed how political freedoms have declined in Brazil, a country he noted is pivotal given its size and influence in Latin America.

“Brazil is no longer a liberal democracy,” Shellenberger said. “It is an illiberal one where people fear speaking their minds for fear of punishment.”

He added that this decline has largely been orchestrated by figures within Brazil’s highest courts, notably Alexandre de Moraes, a pro-censorship member of the Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal/STF), the Supreme Court of Brazil who regularly demands that online content be censored.

Shellenberger accused de Moraes of leveraging his position to suppress dissenting voices across major social media platforms by “demanding that all social media platforms ban [independent journalists and politicians] for life” and criticized these moves as “directly interfering in elections” and representing a “significant” overreach of judicial authority into legislative domains.

Additionally, Shellenberger noted that three days after his reporting exposed some of the undue censorship pressures Brazilian courts and authorities have placed on American social media platforms, he started to be subject to pressure from Brazilian authorities. Specifically, Brazil’s attorney general (AG), Jorge Messias, urged the STF to pursue criminal prosecution against him.

Figueiredo, a prominent political commentator with a notable familial history of championing democratic ideals, detailed an alarming tale of censorship and suppression of free speech in Brazil, presenting a harrowing picture of the current state of press freedom and democratic expression in the country.

He accused de Moraes of leveraging his authority to systematically suppress dissent and control public discourse.

“The global escalation of censorship wouldn’t be possible without a complicit press abandoning its role as democracy’s guardian to become an instrument of ideology and partisan politics,” Figueiredo stated, criticizing the Brazilian media’s role in facilitating this censorship.

Figueiredo, who had his career in mainstream media in Brazil was abruptly curtailed by severe restrictions imposed by Moraes, recounted his personal experience with censorship that reached its zenith shortly after the election of President Lula.

“On December 30, 2022, I was informed that all my social networks would be blocked for Brazilians,” he revealed, describing the directive as a modern equivalent of his great-grandfather’s imprisonment by a past dictatorship.

Despite relocating to the United States and continuing his journalistic work, Figueiredo explained that he remains a target of relentless punitive measures aimed at silencing him. He highlighted that even platforms like Rumble and Locals, where he sought refuge due to their strong defense of free speech, were pressured to deny access to Brazilian users to comply with Brazilian judicial orders.

In closing, the journalist implored the US Congress to take concrete actions to address the erosion of democratic norms not only in Brazil but globally.

“The gradual erosion of freedoms and the concentration of power in the hands of a few are warning signs that must be taken seriously, as the fate of our nation is at stake,” he cautioned, urging the U.S. to reassume its role as a beacon of freedom and democracy.

After the opening statements, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) asked Shellenberger to elaborate on the Lula government and STF crushing free speech in Brazil.

Shellenberger responded by noting that when he interviewed Lula in 1994, Lula was adamant that his version of socialism wouldn’t result in censorship. However, since taking office, Shellenberger noted that Lula has established several agencies that take aim at free speech, often related to unfavorable information or criticism of the government.

Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) blasted asked Shellenberger why he believes X owner Elon Musk has found himself in the crosshairs of Brazil’s censorship demands.

Shellenberger suggested that Musk drew the backlash because he “grew fed up with all the illegitimate, unconstitutional, and illegal requests for censorship” and called out other Big Tech companies such as Google and Meta for “allowing the censorship to continue.”

Pavlovski also told Salazar about Brazil’s censorship demands and discussed Rumble’s decision to leave Brazil to protest the censorship orders.

Additionally, she asked the witnesses how members of Congress can help protect the average Brazilian’s access to American social media platforms. In his response, Figueiredo urged members of Congress to exercise their oversight powers against the executive branch and blasted the Biden administration for being a “force for censorship.”

In a subsequent round of questions, Rep. Smith asked Pavlovski to elaborate on who Brazil’s censorship demands were focused on. The Rumble CEO noted that the sweeping demands had targeted a range of creators and journalists, including Monark, a popular podcaster who has been described as “Brazil’s Joe Rogan.”

Towards the end of the hearing, Rep. Smith vowed to continue focusing on Brazil’s attacks on free speech.

“Lula does not have a right, nor does the Supreme Court Justice in Brazil, to violate people’s free speech rights which are universally recognized…the Constitution couldn’t be clearer,” Rep. Smith said. “That’s what this is about.”

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