Brazilian Forces Invade Universities in Suppression of Free Speech

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Brazilian media have reported that Brazilian police have staged raids authorised by the electoral authorities, sometimes without warrants, in universities across the country. In these raids, professors were questioned and materials belonging to professors and students were confiscated.

Over 20 universities in Brazil were subjected to invasions by military police on the basis of ideology and restriction of free expression, primarily in relation to anti-fascist history. Recently elected President Bolsonaro has said “I’m in favour of a dictatorship” and called for “a Brazil that is similar to the one we had 40, 50 years ago,” a time of Brazilian dictatorship and military rule.

These raids on universities are part of Brazil’s supposed effort to crush illegal electoral advertising during the most recent presidential elections in which the far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, the ‘Trump of the Tropics’, won. Brazilian election laws ban electoral publicity in public spaces. However, much of the material that was confiscated had no mention of candidates or parties. For example, flags branded “UFF School of Law- Anti-Fascist” and flyers reading “Manifest in Defence of Democracy and Public Universities” were seized.

These raids could easily be seen as the result of the past five years in Brazil’s turbulent political history. Major corruption investigations and polarising presidential elections – following the impeachment of a sitting president – have tarnished Brazil’s message of a strong democratic culture.

These worrying encroachments on free speech are indicative of the divide in Brazilian politics between President Bolsonaro’s supporters – the so-called Bolsominions who name him ‘The Myth’ and are galvanised by his rhetoric of declaring refugees “the scum of the earth” – and Bolsonaro’s attackers, who name him ‘Bolso-donkey’ because of his rude and aggressive attitude towards women and minorities.

“Tyranny is the exact opposite of democracy”

However, the Supreme Court has recently voted unanimously to suspend the electoral court decision that has led to the invasions on university campuses. Supreme Court Justice, Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha, declared while passing her vote that “the only legitimate force to invade universities is free and plural ideas. Any other force that enters is tyranny, and tyranny is the exact opposite of democracy.”

A group of 107 international academics have reacted to these attacks in a letter sent to The Guardian, calling on “co-workers, colleagues and students to decry this attack on Brazil’s universities in the name of Bolsonaro’s wider militaristic, anti-progressive agenda.” They claim that they “will not stand by as this reactionary populist attacks the pillars of Brazil’s democracy and education system.”

However, the Brazilian ambassador to the UK, Fred Arruda, has responded in his own letter to The Guardian, stating that Bolsonaro has provided a strong and unwavering commitment to the “defence of the rule of law.”

Nevertheless, this suppression echoes the style of Brazil’s military regime between 1964 to 1985. These troubling, warrantless police raids are especially dangerous considering the speech being restricted isn’t actually illegal. These raids began even before Bolsonaro was elected and have often been initiated by his supporters. Now that he has become president, we can expect him to further suppress the speech of his opponents, who he has dubbed the “red communists”.

Tali Fraser

Image: [The Times]