Brazilian federal police seek to charge Bolsonaro with COVID crime

Brazilian federal police seek to charge Bolsonaro with COVID crime


Brasilia: Brazil’s federal police has accused President Jair Bolsonaro of discouraging mask use during the pandemic and falsely suggesting that people who got vaccinated against COVID-19 ran the risk of contracting AIDS.

In a document sent to Brazil’s top court, a police delegate said Bolsonaro’s effort to discourage compliance with pandemic-linked health measures amounted to a crime, while his effort to link AIDS with vaccination amounted to a misdemeanour.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, with as his wife Michelle, formally launches his re-election campaign in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais state, on Tuesday.Credit:AP

The police asked Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who is in charge of the probe, to authorise the police to charge Bolsonaro and others involved in the case.

In a social media livestream in October, the far-right president said, without presenting any evidence, that UK government reports had shown that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 had developed AIDS.

Bolsonaro, who has declined to take the vaccine, was temporarily suspended from both Facebook and YouTube after the comments.

Police said additional steps were needed to conclude the investigations, including hearing from Bolsonaro. The solicitor-general’s office, which typically provides legal representation for the president, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bolsonaro is eyeing a re-run for president in national elections in October. His and his main rival, former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva’s, campaign kicked off this week amid growing concern of political violence and threats to democracy.

Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is running for reelection, takes a selfie with a supporter during a campaign rally in Sao Bernardo do Campo, SP.Credit:AP

Lula currently leads all polls against the president. He has already taken to wearing a bulletproof vest for public appearances. He was scheduled to speak at an engine factory on Tuesday, but federal police officers asked him to cancel due to security concerns, according to his campaign.

Instead, the leftist launched his seventh bid for the presidency at a Volkswagen plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a manufacturing city outside Sao Paulo where he rose to fame as a union leader in the 1970s.

Bolsonaro revisited the spot in Juiz de Fora where he was stabbed by a mentally ill man on the campaign trail in 2018. He arrived on a motorcycle surrounded by security guards and also wearing a bulletproof vest, unlike in 2018 when he plunged unprotected into the thronging crowd.

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro grimaces after he was stabbed in the abdomen during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, in 2018.Credit:AP

Bolsonaro’s return to the site of his stabbing is an attempt to invoke the same outsider profile that enabled the seven-term congressman to cruise to victory then, said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

“For Bolsonaro, this is the image of himself as a rebel, anti-system candidate, and the attack on his life is central to that narrative,” said Santoro. “For him and his supporters, the man who stabbed him was not a ‘lone wolf’, but part of a conspiracy of the political elite against Bolsonaro.”

The race in Latin America’s largest democracy is a clash of titans, with all other candidates lagging far behind. Both have been publicly rallying supporters for months, although they hadn’t been permitted by the electoral authority to ask for votes nor air ads. So far, no debates between Lula and Bolsonaro have been scheduled.

Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, former Brazilian president, at a re-election rally on Tuesday.Credit:AP

“It’s impossible not to be moved, returning to this city,” Bolsonaro told the crowd in Juiz de Fora, where people were patted down before being allowed past metal barriers to approach the president’s stage. “The memory that I carry with me is of a rebirth. My life was spared by our creator.”

After his speech, Bolsonaro made a speedy exit standing on the bed of a truck, waving to the crowd while tightly encircled by security personnel.

His supporters frequently cite Lula’s 580 days of imprisonment after he was found guilty of corruption and money laundering. Those convictions ejected Lula from the 2018 race and cleared the way for Bolsonaro. They were first annulled on procedural grounds by the Supreme Court, which later ruled the judge had been biased and colluded with prosecutors.

Trailing in the polls, Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has sowed concern that he could reject the results if he loses the vote. He has raised unfounded doubts about the nation’s electronic voting system in use since 1996, notably in a meeting he called with foreign diplomats. His insistence elicited a reaction last week from hundreds of companies and over a million Brazilians who signed a pair of letters demanding the nation’s democratic institutions be respected.

When Bolsonaro’s candidacy was confirmed, he called on supporters to flood the streets for September 7 Independence Day celebrations. On that date last year, he declared before tens of thousands of supporters that only God could remove him from power. Analysts have repeatedly expressed concern he is setting the stage to follow the lead of former US president Donald Trump and attempt to cling to power.

Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro show a Trump campaign flag during a re-election campaign rally for Bolsonaro in Juiz de Fora on Tuesday.Credit:AP

Human Rights Watch said the campaign was “likely to be a critical test for democracy and the rule of law in the country and in Latin America”.

“Candidates should condemn political violence and call on their supporters to respect the right of Brazilians to peacefully elect their representatives and to run for office without fear,” it said.

In the evening, da Silva and Bolsonaro met in the capital city of Brasilia at the inauguration of the new president of Brazil’s electoral court, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. He will oversee October’s vote, and also chairs a probe into false news that has hit many allies of the president.

Moraes is also a staunch supporter of the country’s electronic voting system.

“We are the only democracy in the world that tallies and presents election results on the same day, with agility, security, competence, transparency. That’s a cause for national pride,” Moraes said before several applauding candidates and authorities. Bolsonaro, instead, stood still.

Reuters, AP

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