Sep. 25, 2012 at 3:45 PM ET
SAO PAULO — An elections court in Brazil has ordered the arrest of Google's most senior executive in the country after the company failed to take down YouTube videos attacking a local mayoral candidate.
Google is appealing the order, which follows a similar decision by another Brazilian election judge. In that case, a judge found another senior executive responsible for violating local election law. That decision was overturned last week.
The legal challenges underline broader questions about Google's responsibility for content uploaded by third parties to its websites, such as an anti-Islam video that sparked a wave of protests and violence in the Muslim world.
A spokesman for the regional elections court in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state said on Tuesday that a judge had ordered the arrest of Fabio José Silva Coelho, Google's top executive in Brazil, unless the videos attacking a mayoral candidate were removed.
"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.
The arrest warrants for Google executives follow the filing of criminal charges in March against Chevron Corp and Transocean Ltd and 17 of their employees and executives, in a case that showed the Brazilian justice systems' willingness to target senior executives for alleged misdeeds.
Public prosecutors, who have almost total independence to bring cases in Brazil, are seeking jail terms of up to 31 years in the case, which resulted from a November oil spill. Chevron is the No. 2 U.S. oil company. Transocean is the world's largest offshore oil-drill-rig operator.
'What an idiot'
In Google's case, judges have held executives responsible for resisting the removal of online videos in violation of a stringent 1965 Electoral Code. The law bans campaign ads that "offend the dignity or decorum" of a candidate.
Earlier this month an electoral court in the state of Paraiba ordered the arrest of another senior Google executive, Edmundo Luiz Pinto Balthazar, after the company refused to take down a YouTube video mocking a mayoral candidate there.
The video clip loaded by the user "Paraiba Humor" seized on a verbal slip by a candidate in a montage remarking, "What an idiot — give him an F!"
Within days another judge overturned the order to arrest Balthazar, writing that "Google is not the intellectual author of the video, it did not post the file, and for that reason it cannot be punished for its propagation."
The company also defended users' political rights in a statement at the time.
"Google believes that voters have a right to use the Internet to freely express their opinions about candidates for political office, as a form of full exercise of democracy, especially during electoral campaigns," the company wrote.
Google faces frequent legal scrutiny over the limits of users' expression in Brazil, where it opened an office in 2005.
Over the years, the company has received repeated requests from Brazilian authorities to reveal the identity of bloggers and users of its social networking site Orkut, whose posts violated local libel and anti-racism laws.
In the second half of last year, Google removed four Orkut profiles after an electoral court order, the company said on a portion of its website called the Transparency Report.
This story was updated at 8:40 p.m. ET.
(Story by Brad Haynes with Additional reportingby Jeb Blount; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
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