Freedom for me, censorship for thee

The concept of freedom of speech is a little mixed-up in Brazilian far-right groups at the moment. For them, either you say what they believe is true or, well, you’d better keep your mouth shut. A curious practice, given these are highly ideological people who hold, for example, that mandatory vaccines or the use of masks to protect against Covid-19 violate people’s freedom of choice. 

It doesn’t make a great deal of sense. But this inconsistency hit a new level in the last few days, after President Jair Bolsonaro – whose appeals to rights and freedoms are only voiced when it is convenient for his side – tried, via the courts, to silence musicians who criticized his administration during the Lollapalooza Brazil festival in São Paulo. For those advocating censorship, stopping the shows was necessary to prevent them becoming “political demonstrations.” 

Unsurprisingly, the move backfired. It’s not so much that Bolsonaro lost popularity among the Lollapalooza crowd (he didn’t have much to lose there), but rather that attempts to silence protests provoked a wave of those looking to speak-out against censorship. Artists didn’t even have to initiate the chants: as soon as many stepped on stage, people began shouting “Bolsonaro out!”

People also raised their voices to criticize the government’s hypocrisy. Bolsonaro has recently participated in multiple events that, by law, should not feature electoral campaigning – but that clearly did. Even military officers, who are not supposed to be partisan, have attended some of these pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations. 

But this is what Bolsonaro’s Brazil has become: unless you’re waving a flag emblazoned with the President’s face – rather than Lula’s, the left-wing candidate that polls say should win in October – you better not express yourself politically. The message is clear: freedom of speech for me, censorship for thee.

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