Human Rights Watch accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Thursday of violating the right to free speech by blocking critics on social media, where the far-right leader maintains a heavy presence.
At least 176 journalists, lawmakers, influencers, ordinary citizens and others deemed critical of the president have had their access to his accounts blocked, mostly on Twitter, the New York-based rights group said in a report.
Bolsonaro "is trying to rid his social media accounts of people and institutions that disagree with him and turn them into spaces where only applause is allowed, part of a broader effort to silence or marginalize critics," HRW's Brazil director, Maria Laura Canineu, said in a statement.
The group noted that in the United States, an appeals court ruled in 2019 that Bolsonaro's political role model, then-president Donald Trump, could not block critics from his Twitter account because that violated their constitutional right to free speech.
Bolsonaro, who has built his political brand largely around his fiery social media screeds, has around seven million followers on Twitter, 14 million on Facebook -- where he hosts a weekly live address -- and 18.6 million on Instagram.
Human Rights Watch said Bolsonaro was also violating the right of access to information of those concerned.
It said it is itself among the organizations blocked by Bolsonaro, along with leading online news site UOL, investigative site The Intercept Brasil and fellow rights group Amnesty International.
Brazilian Communications Minister Fabio Faria said it was the president's right to block people.
"Official government accounts are one thing, but Jair Bolsonaro's personal, individual accounts are another," he said.
Bolsonaro claims his own right to free speech is regularly violated on social media, where he has had posts deleted on grounds of spreading fake news.