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US Judge Temporarily Halts Trump Administration's WeChat Ban

Rebbeca Ren

posted on September 20, 2020 10:15 pm

On Sunday morning, a federal judge in California halted the Trump administration's ban on Tencent messaging app WeChat.

Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”

The ruling will prevent the department from forcing Apple and Google to remove Tencent's WeChat, the only feasible way for the Chinese diaspora to keep in touch with friends and families in China, from their libraries before Sunday night.

In order to fulfill the executive orders issued by US President Donald Trump on August 6 to ban WeChat and TikTok over national security concerns, the Commerce Department announced on Friday that the country will ban downloads of the two China-related apps after Sunday night.

After the executive orders were issued, US WeChat User Alliance (USWUA), a nonprofit organization created by a group of lawyers, filed a lawsuit to have the ban overturned, seeking to prevent them from prohibiting WeChat use in the US by individual users, businesses and groups.

The nonprofit claimed that the Commerce's announcement to ban the use of WeChat contradicted the promise made by the Department of Justice in court on Wednesday, which is that if US-based users download and use WeChat for personal or business purposes, they would not be regarded as breaking the president's executive orders and be exempt from "criminal or civil liability." 

Therefore, USWUA filed a renewed motion for a preliminary injunction in court on Saturday.

Beeler wrote in the ruling that a WeChat ban “eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs' community,” and that an injunction would be in the public's interest. Furthermore, specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was also “modest.” 

Besides, the preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce's order that would have barred other transactions with WeChat in the US.

The alliance praised the ruling “as an important and hard-fought victory” for “millions of WeChat users in the US.”

Michael Bien, a lawyer for USWUA, said “the US has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community.”

He added the order “trampled on their First Amendment guaranteed freedoms to speak, to worship, to read and react to the press, and to organize and associate for numerous purposes.”

According to analytics firms Apptopia, WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the US in early August.