Bolsonaro critics targetted in intimidation campaign in Brazil

WION Web Team
Brasilia, Brazil Published: Mar 21, 2021, 11:15 AM(IST)

Jair Bolsonaro Photograph:( Reuters )

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Police in Brazil have even employed a national security law against his critics, while lawyers and activists rally to provide them with legal help and accuse the government of trying to silence dissent.

Lawyers and human-rights activists warn Brazil is seeing a surge in legal and extra-legal moves to stifle dissent against President Jair Bolsonaro, in some cases with legislation and tactics dating back to the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship -- for which the president is openly nostalgic.

Police in Brazil have even employed a national security law against his critics, while lawyers and activists rally to provide them with legal help and accuse the government of trying to silence dissent.

On Friday, demonstrators challenged police in the capital by parading with anti-Bolsonaro signs a day after four protesters were detained. They had called the president "genocidal" for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and displayed a cartoon depicting him as a Nazi. Officers took no action Friday as about 40 people protested for an hour.

The national security law makes it a crime to harm the heads of the three branches of government or expose them to danger. The vague measure has recently been used to detain or investigate Bolsonaro critics.

On several instances, the president has complained that he is being unfairly vilified, most recently Thursday night during a live Facebook broadcast.

"They call me a dictator. I want you to point at one thing I did in two years and two months that was autocratic," he said while complaining about a newspaper column that used the word genocidal to describe him.

Brasilia police said Thursday that the four detained protesters violated the national security law "as they showed a Swastika in association to the symbol of the president of the Republic." But Brazil's federal police force, which decides whether cases brought by local police deserve to go ahead in national security crimes, dismissed the case and released three of the four demonstrators. One was held on an outstanding warrant from a previous case.

The cases appear to almost entirely target Bolsonaro's critics, human rights organisations and activists say.

Federal police have conducted more than 80 investigations under the security law during Bolsonaro's first two years, and more than 10 in the first 45 days of 2021, according to the newspaper O Globo. The yearly average before the conservative leader took office was 11.

Other critics of the president complain of less-official backlash, in the form of "online militias" of Bolsonaro supporters who launch coordinated attacks and smear campaigns against his perceived opponents on social media.

Journalists, artists and scientists have also complained of coordinated attacks by Bolsonaro backers online.

The hate campaigns sometimes spill from the virtual world into real life.

Cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, whom Bolsonaro recently interviewed to be his next health minister, received death threats for supporting stay-at-home measures and questioning the use of drugs such as hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19 despite studies finding them ineffective.

When she met Bolsonaro -- himself a one-time user and heavy backer of hydroxychloroquine -- in Brasilia, unknown individuals tried to invade her hotel. She said she ultimately turned down the health minister job, citing "differences" with the president.

(with inputs from agencies)

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