Brazil: Protect democracy and carry out a thorough investigation now

Brazil: Protect democracy and carry out a thorough investigation now - Protection

The inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took place in Brasilia on 1 January 2023. Seven days later, protesters stormed government buildings. Photo: Wagner Vilas/ Shutterstock

ARTICLE 19 and its Brazil and South America regional office condemn the attacks on Congress and state buildings in Brazil on 8 January 2023. We call on the government to hold those responsible for the attacks to account. To protect democracy, Brazil must carry out a thorough and rapid investigation as to how the attack took place.

The attack on Congress, the presidential palace, and Supreme Court was carried out by protesters supporting the former president Jair Bolsanaro, who was voted out in October, when Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected the country’s president. The attack was a haunting and disturbing echo of the storming of the United States Capitol on 6 January 2021, and comes just weeks after Bolsonaro was reported to have made a visit to Trump’s sprawling complex at Mar-a-Lago Florida. 

The importance of ensuring that authorities investigate the planning behind the attack cannot be overstated.  They must assess evidence that suggests the assault was a coordinated effort to overthrow democratic institutions and oust democratically-elected officials. 

Persistent failure to support democracy

In the run up and following the presidential election in October 2022, analysts had predicted that plans for such an attack were likely, given the focus, tactics and activities of some parts of the pro-Bolsonaro movement and the overriding political environment of the last few years. The movement has consistently shown extremist elements and often borne the hallmarks of fascism, and has had an impact on almost every aspect of Brazilian society, including commerce, the military, the environment, and press freedom.

For too many years, Brazil’s authorities, including security forces and military and civic institutions, have either actively worked against the establishment of a robust democracy and protections for its longevity, or been passive and unresponsive when these efforts have been attacked or undermined. 

This failure to support democratic institutions, which in some cases dates back to the 1964 military coup, must now be reversed; in light of the gravity of this attack, complacency cannot be tolerated. 

At the same time, it is important to point out that peaceful protest and criticism must be safeguarded, as set out in the Federal Constitution. However, calls for ‘military intervention’ and for the outcome of the October 2022 election to be overturned, accompanied by violence against people and public property, run counter to these constitutional rights. 

ARTICLE 19 condemns actions taken in recent years by the military police force in the Federal District of Brasilia, which has used abusive use of force and anti-terrorism legislation against civil society. Authorities in other jurisdictions have also violated the right to peaceful protests and supported the more extremist tactics used by some groups of Bolsonaro supporters.

Protect journalists 

ARTICLE 19 also highlights the importance of protecting freedom of expression and journalists’ safety at this crucial time, particularly with regard to coverage of the 8 January attack. 

Over the last four years, journalists have been subjected to violent attacks and threats, a direct reflection of the former president’s attitudes to journalists, media outlets and people on social media that reported or commented on him and his supporters in a negative light.

During the 8 January attacks, several journalists were attacked and threatened, and there were reports that groups of Bolsonaro supporters called for raids on TV stations and newsrooms. This is a continuation of the situation witnessed during Bolsanaro’s time in office.

According to ARTICLE 19’s Global Expression Report, in 2021, the number of attacks on journalists and media outlets was the highest since the 1990s, with 430 attacks that year. Data for 2022 will be published shortly. ARTICLE 19 reiterates that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of Brazilian democracy, and must be duly protected.

Furthermore, we call on authorities to assess what role disinformation campaigns could have played in the recent attacks, and what role it has played in assaults on freedom of expression over the last four years. 

After four years of political setbacks and attacks on civil society perpetrated by the government of Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, and an atmosphere in which discrimination and violence against marginalised groups, the press, social movements and civil society were rife, the October 2022 election was the most challenging in a generation. With this came expectation of greater popular participation in political decisions, calls for democratic foundations to be strengthened, and for the expansion of social and political rights with a particular emphasis on protection policies for vulnerable groups. An attempt to obstruct objectives so vital to Brazilian society, and fundamental to democracy itself, must not be tolerated.

ARTICLE 19, and in particular its Brazil and South America office, will continue with its mission to defend Brazil as a democratic state and protect and promote individual and collective liberties. It will continue to denounce the abuses and violations committed by a criminal extremist movement that has gained institutional strength in recent years. It is our duty under national and international laws to confront the series of violations committed against Brazilian society.

We look forward to receiving guarantees from Brazilian authorities that a thorough investigation will be carried out into the recent assault on democracy, and that those leading and organising these actions will be held accountable under Brazilian law.