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New Brazil government uses protest to justify harsh new legislation

New laws include criminalizing election misinformation, extra penalties for service members

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Yudi Sherman

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Yudi Sherman

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Shining a spotlight on media and government disinformation.

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January 19, 2023

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05:57 AM

New Brazil government uses protest to justify harsh new legislation

Brazil’s government is proposing legislation to prosecute crimes against the “Democratic Rule of Law” after demonstrators who were protesting fraudulent elections last week broke into federal buildings. 

Millions of Brazilians have spent months protesting the presidential election, declared in October for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a Leftist former president who was imprisoned for corruption. Many insist the election was fraudulent and continue to demand that Right-leaning President Jair Bolsonaro retain his seat.      

For over two months, civil unrest has plagued Brazil’s cities and streets after voting machine audits found significant voting regularities which may have helped Lula cross the finish line with 50.7% of the vote, the narrowest margin in Brazil’s history. Some areas also reported zero votes going to Bolsonaro. 

During a January 8th protest allegedly designed to replicate the one at the United States Capitol on January 6th, Brazilian demonstrators stormed the Planalto, Alvorada and Jaburu Palaces — the seats of the country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential office. 

Official reports allege that the Lula administration knew in advance the buildings would be breached. 

The riot elicited a reaction similar to January 6th, which included an outpouring of support for Lula and widespread criticism of Right-leaning Brazilians from both worldwide media and global leaders. Those leaders, including Joe Biden and Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, soundly condemned the protesters for their “assault” on Brazil’s “democratic institutions”. 

Now the Lula administration is preparing a set of laws to crack down on those who threaten “democratic institutions” which the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety is to present to Lula for approval within five days. The project is being spearheaded by Ministry of Justice Legislative Affairs Secretary and Federal Deputy Elias Vaz. 

Among the legislation being proposed is a new criminal code for crimes against the “Democratic Rule of Law” which will include faster processing of such crimes, according to Revista Oeste. 

Also being discussed is a new “public security force” to protect the three federal buildings that were breached during last week’s protest, as well as embassies. 

"We can't depend on a federal intervention for the government to have autonomy of action for the defense of the security of the Three Powers," Vaz told O Globo

But mainly, the ministry is proposing to revive a bill vetoed by former President Jair Bolsonaro in 2021 due to the unfettered authority it grants the government. 

One article in the bill would criminalize election-related misinformation, described as "promotion or financing of a campaign to disseminate facts that are known to be untrue and that are capable of compromising the purity of the electoral process." 

As noted by Bolsonaro when he vetoed the bill, the proposed law does not specify what conduct would be subject to criminalization, or whether the one who generated the news or the one who shared it (even without the intention of amplifying it) would be subject to prosecution. 

Another vetoed article that may be submitted for approval would provide for increased penalties and the loss of rank and position for military personnel involved in acts against the Democratic State of Law. 

Bolsonaro had vetoed the proposed law because it was "placing the military in a more serious situation than other state agents, besides representing an attempt to prevent the manifestations of thought emanating from more conservative groups.” 

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