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: July 14, 2021

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):University of São Paulo

Region & Country:Americas | Brazil

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 14, 2021, Federal Supreme Court (STF) Justice Kássio Nunes Marques submitted a complaint to Brazil’s Attorney General, demanding a criminal investigation into University of São Paulo (USP) law professor Conrado Hübner Mendes, for an opinion article he wrote and published in a newspaper.

Justice Nunes Marques filed the complaint based on allegations that the article Mendes wrote included “false and/or harmful” statements. In an April 6 article in Folha de São Paulo entitled, “O STF come o pão que o STF amassou” (roughly translated as “The STF eats the bread that the STF kneaded”), Mendes criticized Justice Nunes Marques for allowing large religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Justice Nunes Marques claimed that the article could be considered slander, libel, and defamation, and requested that the Attorney General investigate and hold the article’s author, Mendes, criminally liable.

Justice Nunes Marques’s complaint followed two similar complaints made by the same Attorney General, Antônio Augusto Brandão de Aras, against Mendes. On May 3, Aras asked USP’s ethics committee to investigate Mendes for criticizing the AG in a newspaper column and over social media. Aras alleged that Mendes’s expression 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 in connection with the same expressive activity (see report).

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.