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 20, 2021

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):University of São Paulo

Region & Country:Americas | Brazil

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 20, 2021, Brazil’s Attorney General (AG) of the Republic of Brazil, filed a criminal complaint against Dr. Conrado Hübner Mendes, a legal scholar at the University of São Paulo (USP), in apparent retaliation for public comments Mendes made that were critical of him.

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. Aras previously filed a complaint against Mendes to USP’s ethics committee, stating that Mendes’ public criticisms of the AG violated articles in USP’s Code of Ethics (see report).

On May 20, Aras filed a criminal complaint against Mendes to a federal court, accusing him of committing slander, libel, and defamation through the aforementioned series of tweets and January column in Folha de São Paulo. Aras’ lawyers argued that Mendes did not limit himself to criticism of Aras, but also accused the AG of being untruthful in his actions, which could be considered libelous. On June 10, the public prosecutor overseeing the case voted in favor of continuing the investigation into Mendes’ comments. As of July 1, the case is ongoing.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of coercive legal actions against a scholar in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international legal instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, to which Brazil is a party. Criminal complaints intended to retaliate against a scholar’s nonviolent expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.