US Judge Temporarily Halts Trump Administration’s WeChat Ban

(Source: WeChat / WIRED)

A federal judge halted US President Trump’s executive order banning all new downloads of the popular Chinese app WeChat on Sunday morning.

In issuing the preliminary injunction, US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of Northern California wrote that the plaintiffs – a group of US-based WeChat users – had raised serious questions about whether the order would threaten users’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, with 1.2 billion users worldwide including 19 million in the US, was set to cease operations in the country on Sunday following Trump’s August order, which alleged the app poses a national security threat and private data risks.

“Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant,” the judge wrote. But the Trump administration “has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns.”

What’s more, Beeler wrote that “WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community” and serves as “a public square for the Chinese-American and Chinese-speaking community in the US that is effectively their only means of communication with their community.”

The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 27 by the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, a nonprofit group consisting of several prominent Chinese-American lawyers. The group argued that Trump’s ban on WeChat, if implemented, would stand in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other documents affirming the rights of American citizens.

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In a WeChat statement, the group called the ruling “a hard-fought and historical victory” and they will be “ready to defend the hard-won results for US government’s possible appeal in future.”

Zhu Keliang, one of the chief counsels in the case, said that they are “quickly preparing to deal with the future new lawsuit as the US government may appeal soon.”

“Thanks to the efforts of all members of our team in the past months,” he wrote in his personal WeChat moments. “The judge’s verdict finally came a few hours before the presidential decree came into effect.”

Tencent did not comment. Similarly, the US Department of Commerce and the White House did not immediately comment.

The injunction against the ban came after President Trump said Saturday he had approved a deal in which Oracle and Walmart will partner with the viral video-sharing app TikTok.

“I don’t necessarily like WeChat, but I certainly don’t like being deprived of the right to use software even more,” wrote Meng Xiaojie, a Los Angeles based attorney, in a statement.

“The significance of this lawsuit is far greater than that of an individual or a certain ethnic group. What it consolidates is the value of freedom of speech that the United States is proud of but is slowly abandoning,”Meng wrote.