In jail since April for corruption and money laundering, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has yet to give a single interview to the press since beginning his sentence. This is not for lack of trying on behalf of Lula or the Brazilian media. Last week, an interview request by Brazil’s largest newspaper was turned down by a federal court, which led to a series of Supreme Court appeals and injunctions, sparking a heated debate about press freedoms in the country.
Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s biggest newspaper, requested an interview with the former president for its daily politics column, but the 13th Federal Court in the city of Curitiba, where Lula is serving his prison sentence, denied the newspaper’s right to do so.
The paper appealed to the Supreme Court and on Friday, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski issued an order allowing the interview to take place. He argued that “several media outlets interview people in jail across the country, without causing any problems to the prison system.”
Later that same day, one of Justice Lewandowski’s colleagues, Justice Luiz Fux, suspended that order, prohibiting Lula from giving interviews. If any interviews had already taken place, they would also be forbidden from being published.
Justice Fux argued that if Brazil’s largest newspaper were to print an interview with Lula, there would be a “heightened risk (…) of causing disinformation on the eve of the election.”
The newspaper was furious, with its lawyer calling Justice Fux’s decision “the gravest act of censorship since the military regime,” and a “slap in the face of Brazilian democracy.”
No legal grounds
A former Supreme Court Chief Justice spoke to The Brazilian Report under the condition that his identity would be preserved. He said there are no legal grounds for forbidding Lula from giving an interview. “Convicted felons are allowed to talk to the press. He was prevented from campaigning, not speaking altogether,” said the former Justice.
Justice Fux’s decision has also been widely criticized for being a violation of the law, principally because the suspension of such decisions can only be requested by the public prosecutor’s office or other bodies of public law. The petition in question, accepted by Justice Fux, was filed by Partido Novo, a political party and therefore an entity governed by private law.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has already ruled that its members are unable to suspend decisions made by their colleagues, which is precisely what Justice Fux has done.
This legal imbroglio comes just two weeks into the term of Justice José Antonio Dias Toffoli as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who will now have to attempt to alleviate the situation between the members of the court, with fears of a looming “war of autocratic orders.”
The expectation now is that the issue will be taken to the full bench of the Supreme Court, allowing all 11 Justices the chance to decide on the matter on Wednesday. The overarching opinion of specialists is that the Folha de S.Paulo appeal will be successful, and former president Lula will finally speak to the press once again.