Brazil: Bolsonaro Pardons Conservative Congressman Sentenced to Prison for YouTube Video

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech during the announcement of the hiring

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil issued a presidential pardon late Thursday for Congressman Daniel Silveira, who the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), the nation’s top court, had sentenced to eight years in prison for criticizing the court in a YouTube video.

Bolsonaro published a presidential decree on social media before appearing on a live internet broadcast to sign it. The decree stripped Silveira of the prison sentence – eight years and nine months – of prodigious fines associated with the prison time, and of “the restriction of rights,” which presumably would mean that Silveira could keep his Congressional seat and run for reelection.

“Considering that the presidential prerogative to issue individual pardons is a fundamental method of maintaining the democratic state of rights, inspired by the values shared by a fraternal, just, and responsible society,” the decree read in part, “considering that freedom of expression is an essential pillar of society in all of its manifestations … [the president] issues a constitutional pardon to Daniel Lucio de Silveira, a federal deputy.”

In his public statements on the matter, Bolsonaro called his pardon “news of extreme importance for our democracy and freedom.”

“I started to work on this document yesterday, when the prison sentence of eight years and nine months for Daniel Silveira was announced,” Bolsonaro said, stating that Brazilian society had found itself “in legitimate commotion” given the extreme punishment for someone “who only used his freedom of expression.”

He went on to note that he would resist pressure to ignore or forget Silveira.

“It is very easy to say, ‘Daniel Silveira, take care of your own business. I am not going to say that,” Bolsonaro said. “I was a Congressman for 28 years and, in that House, with all its possible defects, that is where the essence of democracy is, too.”

Silveira – a rookie Congressman who should be up for reelection this year, should Bolsonaro’s pardon hold up to expected appeals from the left – was first arrested in February 2021 for airing a Youtube live in which he aggressively and profanely criticized members of the STF.

“In my opinion, you should all be removed from your posts and there should be a nomination of 11 new ministers [STF justices],” Silveira said in the video, which the STF forced Youtube to remove from its site. “You never deserved to be there and several who have already moved on never deserved to be there, you are unpalatable.”

Silveira also said the STF ministers were “not good for shit for this country” and “have on character, no scruples, no morals.”

In the more controversial parts of the video, Silveira said he imagined the STF ministers, as the judges are called, “taking a beating.”

“What are you going to say? That I am fomenting violence?” he asked. “No, I am just imagining. … Any citizen imaging a well-issued beating in that face of yours … it’s not a crime.”

The STF ruled this week that, among other factors, Silveira was fomenting violence against the judicial branch of the Brazilian government.

“Freedom of expression exists for the manifestation of opposing opinions, jokes, satires, for wrong opinions, but not for criminal opinions, hate speech, an attack on the democratic state of law,” STF Minister Alexandre de Moraes, the most aggressive opponent of free speech on the court, said on Thursday., insisting that only “freedom of expression with responsibility” exists.

“The Constitution does not guarantee freedom of expression as a protective shield for the practice of illicit activities, for hate speech, for speech against democracy, for speech against institutions,” de Moraes claimed.

“This Court and the world in general agree that freedom of expression is not an absolute right and must be balanced with other values and constitutional rights,” another STF minister, Luís Roberto Barroso, asserted.

The ministers rejected the defense’s argument that Silveira holds legislative immunity, which in theory would protect him from prosecution for political commentary. They also declared that stripping a democratically elected lawmaker of his seat in Congress was “the defense of democracy in our country.”

Prior to the sentencing, Silveira spent 11 months in prison for his commentary.

“I spent 11 months in prison, 11 months without a crime,” Silveira said in his last Chamber of Deputies speech before the sentencing this week, “but I think that I was freer [there] because the smallest prison in the world is the robe of Minister Alexandre de Moraes, [a robe] which only fits a thug. It is very complicated to have this element of people inside the STF trampling the constitution.”

The Brazilian left, which recently celebrated the STF annulling a 25-year prison sentence for socialist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on extensive corruption charges, has reacted to the pardon with seething outrage. Multiple leftist lawmakers announced they would attempt to make motions to overturn Bolsonaro’s presidential pardon.

“The criminal rage of Bolsonarism to end democracy and institutions will not pass,” Senate opposition leader Randolfe Rodrigues (Rede-AP) dramatically proclaimed.

“The crime committed by Silveira does not allow the issuing of a pardon,” Juliano Medeiros, the head of the Brazilian Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), alleged in public comments late Thursday. “Bolsonaro’s decision is illegal and needs to be overruled.”

Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, the man who attempted to kill Bolsonaro by stabbing him in the abdomen at a campaign stop in 2018, was a registered member of the PSOL.


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