SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 03, 2021

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):University of São Paulo

Region & Country:Americas | Brazil

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 3, 2021, Brazil’s Attorney General (AG) of the Republic of Brazil, filed a complaint with the University of São Paulo’s (USP) ethics committee demanding an investigation into law professor Conrado Hübner Mendes over public comments he made about the AG over social media and in a column for the newspaper, Folha de São Paulo.

Mendes is a professor of constitutional law at USP and a columnist for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. On January 26, Mendes criticized the work of the AG, Antônio Augusto Brandão de Aras, in a column entitled “Aras is Bolsonaro’s anteroom at the International Criminal Court.” In a series of tweets, also published in January 2021, Mendes describes Aras as a “servant of the president [Jair Bolsonaro],” and stating that some of the AG’s legal omissions were for the benefit of Bolsonaro.

On May 3, Aras filed a complaint against Mendes to USP’s ethics committee, accusing Mendes of violating Articles 5, 6, and 7 of USP’s Code of Ethics, which state that USP community members have a duty to encourage “respect for the truth,” act “in a manner compatible with morality,” and refrain from “disseminating information in a sensational, promotional or untrue manner.”

USP’s ethics committee has yet to announce whether they will be taking any punitive actions against Mendes in response to the complaint. A group of professors submitted a statement to the university, defending Mendes and describing the AG’s complaint as “unprecedented.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about external efforts to pressure a university to investigate and punish a scholar in retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity. Government officials, political actors, and civilians must respect universities’ institutional autonomy, including by refraining from interfering in disciplinary matters. Such efforts undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.