Brazilian opposition parties have challenged far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s decision to pardon a political ally convicted of attacking the country’s democratic institutions and inciting violence against Supreme Court justices.
Prompting protests of executive overreach, Bolsonaro pardoned legislator Daniel Silveira late on Thursday, just a day after he was convicted of hate speech for calling for the Supreme Court to be overthrown.
The centre-left Rede Party on Friday filed a petition to the Supreme Court to annul Bolsonaro’s decree, published in the government gazette, which it deemed “unconstitutional”. The left-wing Democratic Labour Party and Socialism and Liberty Party filed similar actions.
Bolsonaro had said in his weekly Facebook address on Thursday that he pardoned Silveira “in the name of freedom of expression, an essential pillar of our society”.
Silveira, 39, was arrested in February of last year for allegedly plotting “acts aimed at harming [the Supreme Court] and the democratic rule of law” after he posted a video online defending Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship and said the court justices deserved “a thrashing”.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday convicted him by 10 votes to one for inciting physical attacks on the justices, as well as other authorities. He was also stripped of his seat in Congress and barred from running for any office in the October elections.
“The constitution does not allow freedom of expression to be used as a shield for hate speech and attacks against institutions,” Justice Alexandre de Moraes said.
The episode is the latest in a long-running campaign by Bolsonaro and his supporters against the country’s Supreme Court.
The far-right leader has accused the top court’s justices of partisanship, saying they favoured left-wing former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is expected to challenge Bolsonaro in the upcoming elections.
The Supreme Court has ordered investigations into Bolsonaro’s baseless electoral fraud claims, which critics have said the president has peddled in an effort to sow distrust in the process before what recent polls have shown is his likely defeat to Lula.
“Bolsonaro has just transformed the institution of pardons into an institutional disgrace,” Brazilian politician Ciro Gomes, who has polled third at below 10 percent, said on Twitter about Silveira’s pardon.
“He is trying to accelerate in his march toward a coup. But he will not be successful,” Gomes said.
Political commentators say there have been very few individual pardons such as the one granted to Silveira since the constitution entered into force in 1988. They are usually granted collectively, around Christmas, to prisoners approaching the end of their sentences.
After his election in 2018, Bolsonaro had promised to do away with presidential pardons altogether.