In the days leading up to Brazil’s October 28, 2018 runoff election between Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, authorities have reportedly raided several universities throughout the country, questioned professors, confiscated materials, and ordered signs deemed political to be taken down from public spaces.
The raids arise out of court orders issued under a Brazilian law prohibiting political advertising in public spaces. However, several of the materials in question do not endorse a particular candidate or party. In other cases, the actions by authorities appear to have been conducted without warrants, or based on unclear evidence. Recently reported cases include:
- At the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro State’s (UFF), a court order reportedly mandated that a student banner reading “Law UFF-Antifascist” be taken down, and fliers titled “Manifest in Defense of Democracy and Public Universities” be confiscated.
- In Paraiba, police reportedly raided the office of a professors’ union at Campina Grande Federal University, confiscating the “Manifest in Defense of Democracy and Public Universities” fliers, and seizing a hard drive from the union’s press office.
- At the State University of Rio de Janeiro, a warrant ordered that banners honoring Marielle Franco, a city councilwoman who was murdered earlier this year, be taken down.
- At Greater Dourados University, a court ordered the cancellation of a public lecture titled “Crushing Fascism” on the day it was scheduled to take place.
- At the State University of Paraiba, men apparently wearing Regional Election Authority uniforms — but who reportedly did not produce identification — entered a professor’s classroom claiming they had been informed she had been campaigning for a candidate. They left after learning she was not doing so.
- At Pará State University, authorities reportedly conducted a similar classroom raid, based apparently on allegations that a professor was campaigning in class.
- In Minas Gerais State, a court ordered São João Del Rei Federal University to pull from its website a statement, signed by the dean’s office, promoting democratic principles and rejecting violence in the elections.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about raids on campus, the confiscation of materials, improper questioning of professors, and entry by police authorities into university classrooms. While state authorities have the right in certain circumstances to limit partisan activity or electioneering on public campuses, that right does not extend to the prohibition of the neutral expression of ideas — conduct which is explicitly protected under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Brazil is a party. Such actions harm academic freedom and university autonomy, may violate due process, and damage democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On October 28, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court granted an injunction that canceled police orders to raid university campuses and confiscate materials. Supreme Court Minister Cármen Lúcia stated that “the Federal Supreme Court, as guardian of the Federal Constitution, has always defended the autonomy and independence of Brazilian universities, as well as the free exercise of thinking, expression and peaceful demonstration” [Google translation].