SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Google Inc’s most senior executive in Brazil was questioned by police and released on Wednesday after the company failed to take down a YouTube video attacking a mayoral candidate in alleged violation of electoral law.
Google is appealing the charges against Fábio José Silva Coelho, who was brought in by federal police in São Paulo and released after he agreed to cooperate with the case, according to a police statement.
“Google is providing clarification to legal authorities,” a spokesman for the company in São Paulo said on Wednesday.
The questioning came a day after a state court in São Paulo banned an online video that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world, giving Google 10 days to pull the video from its YouTube unit. Google has not been formally notified about that case, according to a spokesman for the company.
Taken together, the legal scrutiny represents the strongest pressure Google has yet faced in Brazil to control third-party content uploaded to its websites and the first time its senior executives have come under such intense fire.
Rather than reflecting a coherent national policy, however, the cases illustrate how aggrieved citizens can get a sympathetic hearing from local judges with extensive procedural powers.
Coelho was questioned over a case filed in the western state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where a regional electoral court ruled that the executive was at fault for the company’s failure to take down online videos in violation of a stringent 1965 Electoral Code.
Brazilian electoral law bans campaign ads that “offend the dignity or decorum” of a candidate. The video in question claimed that a mayoral candidate demanded his lover get an abortion, publicizing the details of an alleged paternity suit.
“Google is appealing the decision that ordered the removal of the video on YouTube because, as a platform, Google is not responsible for the content posted to its site,” the company said through a spokesman in Brazil on Tuesday.
Even if Google is not at fault for the publication of such a video, the company may be held responsible for not removing content declared by illegal by a judge, according to Leonardo Palhares, a lawyer specializing in internet law at Almeida Advogados in São Paulo.
Federal police said the crime of disobeying a judge’s ruling under the Electoral Code can carry a sentence of up to one year in prison.
The ruling follows a similar decision by another electoral judge in the northeastern state of Paraiba, which also held a senior Google executive responsible for videos in violation of elections law. That decision was overturned last week.
Brazil also entered a broader international debate this week about an inflammatory YouTube video depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer, fool and child abuser, when a state court in Sao Paulo ordered Google to take down the video.
World leaders have decried the video, which set off a string of violent protests in the Muslim world, including attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Several Muslim leaders called for international action to outlaw acts of blasphemy.
When President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he repeated his condemnations of the video as “crude and disgusting” but defended the importance of free speech in the United States and throughout the world.
Ruling on a lawsuit by Brazil’s National Islamic Union, São Paulo Judge Gilson Delgado Miranda gave Google 10 days to remove the video. In his decision, Miranda said he weighed freedom of expression against the need to protect against action that might incite religious discrimination.
A California judge ruled last week that the video could stay on YouTube despite a request to have it taken down by an actress appearing in the clip. She argued that she was duped into taking part and had since received death threats.
Google rejected a request by the White House to reconsider its decision to keep the clips on YouTube, but the company has blocked the trailer in certain Muslim countries such as Egypt and Libya.
With reporting by Esteban Israel and Alice Pereira in Sao Paulo, Leonardo Goy in Brasilia; Editing by Todd Benson and Richard Chang