Has Brazil’s prosecutorial body become too political?

. Nov 12, 2019
prosecutors Carmen Eliza Bastos de Carvalho (R) stepped down from the Marielle Franco case after pro-Bolsonaro pictures surfaced. Photo: Fernando Frazão/ABr

A couple of weeks ago, TV Globo ran a story linking President Jair Bolsonaro to the murder of Rio City Councilor Marielle Franco. The very next morning, a prosecutor involved in the probe held a press conference to say that the story was based on a false testimony given to the police—and that the president had nothing to do with the case. Soon, however, left-wing outlets dug up pictures of the prosecutor published on social media, showing her fervent support for Mr. Bolsonaro—and disdain for the Workers’ Party.

The prosecutor was quickly removed from the case, but this underscores a deeper problem: the over-politicization of Brazil’s prosecutorial body. It also raises the question over whether prosecutors’ decisions are strictly based on law or if they are letting their political allegiances affect their judgment?

</p> <p>First and foremost, we need to understand how Brazil&#8217;s prosecution system works. The institution is made up of several independent sections. At the federal level, they cover crimes of federal jurisdiction, labor issues, and military law. And then there are state prosecution offices across the country.</p> <p>And the profiles of professionals in each section vary significantly. Labor prosecutors are perceived to be more left-leaning, while criminal ones tend to be more inclined to defend a tough-on-crime stance and harsher penalties for convicted felons. &#8220;The latter group is more focused on what the state <em>must</em> do, rather than looking at individuals&#8217; rights. The crackdown on corruption has always been the key argument for conservatives who want authority figures to hold greater powers,&#8221; says lawyer José Roberto Batochio, a former defense attorney for ex-president Lula.</p> <p>For Brazilian legal scholar Lênio Streck, there is no foul play <em>per se</em> in a prosecutor having his/her own political views—as long as they don&#8217;t use their positions for activism. But, as it seems, Brazilian prosecutors have had trouble dealing with this boundary.</p> <h2>When prosecutors become militants</h2> <p>Lawyer Roberto Tardelli, who served as a prosecutor in the 1980s, says that it is unsurprising that prosecutors have been drawn closer to Jair Bolsonaro. &#8220;It is a simplistic ideology, focused on the fight against impunity,&#8221; he comments.</p> <p>In his days, he says, prosecutors were also more conservative than not—but followed due process as a sacred principle. In his opinion, that is no longer the case, as prosecutors see no problem in overstepping boundaries in the name of punishing defendants they believe are guilty. &#8220;The prosecution office in Brazil is supposed to protect the rule of law—not to engage in legal vigilantism,&#8221; says Mr. Tardelli.</p> <p>The boundary was certainly trespassed by a group of prosecutors who founded a movement called Pro-Society Prosecutors, a group that pulls no punches when defending a hard line on crime. On Twitter, they called the recently-approved &#8220;Abuse of Authority Act&#8221; the &#8220;Happy Crook Act,&#8221; saying the new law is a gagging order on prosecutors in the name of getting bad guys off the hook.</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">Os membros da Associação MP Pró-Sociedade, reunidos em assembleia em Florianópolis-SC, de 31 de outubro a 2 de novembro de 2019, aprovaram o seguinte enunciado: <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; MP Pró-Sociedade (@m_ppro) <a href="">November 5, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>Back in August, dozens of prosecutors signed a manifest against what they called &#8220;<em>bandidolatria</em>,&#8221; or the idolization of criminals. In their text, the group said that &#8220;releasing prisoners from prison kills,&#8221; as does impunity.</p> <p>But for Marcelo Goulart, who has served as a prosecutor for 35 years, the majority of the Brazilian prosecutorial body is not political. He believes that the recent political polarization has been the key factor in &#8220;drawing many criminal prosecutors out of the closet.&#8221; But he thinks this overly-conservative group does not represent the institution as a whole.&nbsp;</p> <p>There is actually no way of knowing this, as no reliable survey on prosecutors&#8217; political views has been done. But one thing is certain: as prosecutors continue to parade their views on social media, they only add to the turmoil, undermining the legitimacy of the institution they represent. In a country where people are already prone to not believe in institutions—that can be dangerous.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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