In advance of this Sunday’s second-round presidential election between far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro and center-left candidate Fernando Haddad, Brazilian media are reporting that Brazilian police have been staging raids, at times without warrants, in universities across the country this week. In these raids, police have been questioning professors and confiscating materials belonging to students and professors.
The raids are part a supposed attempt to stop illegal electoral advertising. Brazilian election law prohibits electoral publicity in public spaces. However, many of the confiscated materials do not mention candidates. Among such confiscated materials are a flag for the Universidade Federal Fluminense reading “UFF School of Law - Anti-Fascist” and flyers titled “Manifest in Defense of Democracy and Public Universities.”
For those worrying about Brazilian democracy, these raids are some of the most troubling signs yet of the problems the country faces. They indicate the extremes of Brazilian political polarization: Anti-fascist and pro-democracy speech is now interpreted as illegal advertising in favor of one candidate (Fernando Haddad) and against another (Jair Bolsonaro). In the long run, the politicization of these two terms will hurt support for the idea of democracy, and bolster support for the idea of fascism.
In the short run, the raids have even more troublesome implications. Warrantless police raids in university classrooms to monitor professor speech have worrisome echoes of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime — particularly when the speech the raids are seeking to stop is not actually illegal.
Perhaps the most concerning point of all is that these raids are happening before Bolsonaro takes office. They have often been initiated by complaints from Bolsonaro supporters. All of this suggests that if Bolsonaro wins the election — as is widely expected — and seeks to suppress the speech of his opponents, whom he has called “red [i.e., Communist] criminals,” he may have plenty of willing helpers.
Update: On Friday, October 26, Brazil’s Attorney General of the Republic said she will bring the matter to the Supreme Court, seeking to guarantee freedom of expression in universities. Members of the Supreme Court also expressed concern about the raids on Friday.
Update 2: On Wednesday, October 31, Brazil’s Supreme Court voted unanimously to suspend the electoral court decision that had led to last week’s university raids, holding that the raids violated Brazilians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. The decision holds force in both public and private universities. In casting her vote, Supreme Court Justice Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha declared that, “The only legitimate force to invade universitites is free and plural ideas. Any other force that enters is tyranny, and tyranny is the exact opposite of democracy.”