Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.
The press maintained a confrontational relationship with the Bolsonaro administration. The press regularly published highly critical reporting on the government’s actions, and President Bolsonaro and members of his administration frequently criticized the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Bolsonaro criticized the press 87 times in the first half of the year, verbally or via social media – a 74 percent increase compared with the second half of 2020. Reporters Without Borders included the president in its 37-member “predators of the press freedom” gallery. The organization described the president’s tactics as “predatory methods” that used insults, humiliation, and vulgar threats against primarily women journalists, political analysts, and media networks. Despite these concerns, in general the press continued to operate freely.
In March media reported that police had subpoenaed more than 200 persons to provide depositions and, in some cases, arrested individuals after criticizing the president (including some who called for his assassination) using the 1983 National Security Law that was enacted during the military dictatorship. In February, STF minister Alexandre de Moraes used the same law to order the arrest of Federal Deputy Daniel Silveira for a video Silveira released defending the closing of the STF and expressing support for Institutional Act Number 5, the harshest instrument of repression during the military dictatorship, which removed mandates of antimilitary parliamentarians and suspended constitutional guarantees that eventually resulted in the institutionalization of torture. In September the president approved with five line-item vetoes a bill revoking the National Security Law and adding a series of crimes against democracy to the penal code – criminalizing attacks on national sovereignty, executing a coup d’etat, and spreading fake news during elections.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting.
On April 4, a man riding a motorcycle fatally shot radio broadcaster Weverton Rabelo Froes in the Fazenda Guaribagion region of Planaltino, Bahia. On April 9, an unknown individual fatally shot television producer Jose Bonfim Pitangueiras in the Engenho Velho da Federacao district in Salvador, Bahia. As of October the Civil Police were investigating both crimes but had not identified a motive or suspect in either killing.
In August a journalist and a blogger were attacked in separate incidents less than one month apart in the municipality of Mage in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area. In early August unidentified men set fire to blogger Eduardo César’s vehicle. Separately, on August 17, unidentified men opened fire on journalist Vinicius Lourenco’s vehicle. Neither victim was injured. Both were known for having previously exposed problems within the administration of Mage mayor Renato Cozolino.
In October the Public Ministry of Roraima State denounced state deputy Jalser Renier for eight crimes in the kidnapping of journalist Romano dos Anjos in October 2020. Renier, who was president of the Roraima state legislative assembly at the time, was charged as the mastermind of the kidnapping, for attempting to hinder the investigation, and for using his position to threaten the Roraima state governor. Eight additional military police officers and a former employee of the political party were also charged.
In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. In 2019, drawing on previous court precedent and in coordination with the National Police, the STF began using a law against defaming institutions to investigate cases of individuals or press criticizing the court’s members. These investigations expanded to numerous cases of investigating “fake news,” and on August 4, the STF added President Jair Bolsonaro to its investigation for spreading false statements related to the electoral process and the security of electronic voting machines.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants and provides for a humanitarian visa and residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.
As of October there were almost 273,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country who were highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, many of whom arrived in the northern state of Roraima. The country had already officially recognized more than 61,000 refugees, of whom 48,800 were Venezuelans. The government continued the process of “interiorization” of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers, voluntarily relocating them from the border to other states to relieve pressure on the resource-strapped state of Roraima and provide increased opportunities for education and work.
In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government closed its borders, including the border with Venezuela. During the border closure, migrants who arrived irregularly were unable to receive residency paperwork, limiting their ability to access social services and find work. On June 25, the government issued an ordinance permitting Venezuelan nationals to enter Brazil and to regularize their status through applications for asylum and residence permits, including the regularization of status for those who entered irregularly in the prior 15 months. As of October 15, the government had issued 22,033 entry permits pursuant to the ordinance.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported that refugees were susceptible to human trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and forced labor.
Employment: The interiorization program provided economic opportunities for voluntarily resettled Venezuelans by placing them in economic hubs in larger cities. As of October more than 60,000 Venezuelans had been relocated to cities away from the border. Resettled Venezuelans seeking employment reported difficulty obtaining Brazilian accreditation for foreign academic degrees and professional licenses, restricting their ability to work. Civil society organizations raised concerns that business closures due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected migrants and refugees, many of whom depended on informal jobs or work in the service sector.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2018, citizens chose former federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro as president and elected 54 senators and 513 federal deputies to the national legislature and 27 governors and state legislators to state governments. National observers and media considered the elections free and fair. Municipal elections in November 2020 saw record numbers of indigenous and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) candidates run and win positions across the country while women made modest gains.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.
In August 2020 the Superior Electoral Court decided that publicly provided funds for campaign financing and advertising time on radio and television must be divided proportionally between Black and white candidates in elections. The decision, scheduled to take effect in 2022, was made in response to calls from Afro-Brazilian activists.
The law requires parties and coalitions to have a minimum quota of 30 percent women on the list of candidates for congressional representatives (state and national), mayors, and city council members. By law 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In the 2018 elections, some parties fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In 2018 the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions, representing only 15 percent of federal deputies and 13 percent of federal senators.
Using data from Electoral Justice, CNN reported that more than 43,400 politicians, approximately 25 percent, changed their “color/race” declaration on candidacy forms in 2020. More than 17,300 candidates changed their declaration from white to Black or brown, while approximately 14,500 changed from Black or brown to white. Political parties were pressured to include more persons of color, including the establishment of a new electoral rule to provide additional funding and awareness to campaigns of Black and brown candidates. The candidates interviewed cited different reasons for their decisions, such as to correct a previous error or to acknowledge a racial identity they now believed they were empowered to recognize.
Observers reported that militias and drug trafficking organizations interfered in electoral processes by using violence and intimidation to “corral” votes, influence candidate lists, and limit rival candidates’ ability to access and campaign in some highly populated neighborhoods. This interference was particularly significant in municipal and state elections.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for convictions of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption during the year at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for elected officials. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.
Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, officially ended in February. Despite the operation’s continued popularity with the public, the investigating task force was dissolved after widespread concerns regarding the process and fairness of the prosecutions. Some prosecutors were transferred to the organized crime unit of the Federal Public Ministry to continue their work. During its seven years of existence, Operation Carwash was responsible for 295 arrests and 278 convictions and saw R$ 4.3 billion ($769.6 million) in recovered funds returned to the government.
On April 30, a Rio de Janeiro Special Tribunal voted unanimously to impeach Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel for involvement in the embezzlement scheme related to contracts for COVID-19 response, permanently removing him from office and making him ineligible for public office for five years. The impeachment followed an August 2020 decision by STF Minister Benedito Goncalves to remove Witzel from office for an initial period of 180 days on charges of corruption, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to his role in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the state’s COVID-19 response.
On April 29, police arrested Marcus Vinicius Rebello Gomes, municipal secretary of health in Itatiaia, Rio de Janeiro State, and four other suspects for their participation in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the city’s COVID-19 response. On June 8, the state’s Court of Justice ruled that Itatiaia Mayor Imbere Moreira Alves, his chief of staff, and three municipal secretaries should be removed from office on corruption charges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the municipality