Starting in late October 2018, unidentified individuals began posting threatening letters on at least three Brazilian university campuses, with the apparent intent of chilling academic and other expressive activity on campus. The letters appear to be a part of a recent series of violent and threatening actions taken against members of Brazilian higher education sector amidst the 2018 presidential elections.
On October 31, an anonymous letter was found at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA), allegedly slipped under the door of the student representatives office. The letter reportedly made threats to “exterminate” LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and student activists. At least two female student-activists who are also elected representatives were named in the letter and directly threatened with violence.
Roughly one week later, on November 7, a second anonymous, threatening letter was found posted on at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE). The letter, found in the student representatives office of the history department, identified over twenty students and faculty that the author claims will be banned from the university once Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro comes to power. Faculty named in the letter are reportedly known for their research in the areas of LGBTQ+ and gender studies as well as public policy related to policing and drug legalization.
The next day, a third letter was reportedly found at the State University of Pernambuco (UPE). This letter reportedly made more general threats against disciplines described as “indoctrination” and praised Brilhante Ustra, a member of the military involved in the torture of political dissidents during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985. Jair Bolsonaro has publicly expressed his admiration for Brilhante Ustra. The letter ends with the threat: “UPE will be purged of all communists.”
The letters represent the culmination of a series of incidents that have occurred on campuses across Brazil since the final weeks of the 2018 president campaigns. These have included violent clashes between opposing students groups, police raids on campuses, and seizure of student and faculty materials.
As of this report, state authorities and university officials at the three universities have opened investigations.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about anonymous threats made against university scholars and students, apparently intended to retaliate against and restrict the peaceful exercise of the right to academic freedom. State and university authorities have a responsibility to investigate such threats and to hold perpetrators responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such threats undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.