U.S. judge halts Commerce Department order to remove WeChat from app stores

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge early Sunday blocked the Commerce Department from requiring Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to remove Tencent Holding’s WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California 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.”

Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce order that would have barred other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have degraded the site’s usability for current U.S. users. The U.S. Commerce Department did not immediately comment.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker