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Why Lula is a political prisoner, not a criminal

Former president of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva surrendered to serve a 12-year jail sentence.
CUT no Fórum (CC 2.0)

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, affectionately known as ‘Lula’, is in prison. He surrendered Saturday evening to begin serving a 12-year sentence.

But it is necessary to clarify something that the foreign media has either not understood or has deliberately decided not to explain to their non-Brazilian audience.

Lula’s support is not just part of a ‘populist trend’.

It is true that he is the most successful and popular president Brazil has ever had.

It is also true that the international media has reported on the Workers’ Party’s successful ‘left of centre’ policies, such as lifting millions of people out of poverty and Brazil out of the UN’s Hunger Map.

New Internationalist magazine's October 2017 edition
takes a special look at Brazil's 'soft coups'.

And it is precisely because of this success (translated into four presidential mandates) that a significant portion of the Brazilian population remembers the Lula years with fondness – especially when compared with Michel Temer's turbulent post-impeachment regime.

However, what is hardly ever mentioned, is the fact that many in Brazil are extremely alarmed and concerned for democracy, the Brazilian constitution and the rule of law.

Since president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the country has had to endure escalating violence and worrying trends. The recent murder of Councillor Marielle Franco is one example highlighting the rise in violence which spreads to vulnerable populations, community leaders and activists among indigenous, former slave communities, landless peasants, young black people in the favelas, and prisoners. The gun attack on Lula’s bus exemplifies the rise in fascist and extreme right views and attitudes.

Within this scenario, Lula’s trial and conviction is the most emblematic.

That is why a considerable number of renowned Brazilian legal experts (both academics and practising professionals) have consistently flagged up flaws at all levels of Lula’s proceedings: from the unnecessary bench warrant that led to his forceful arrest by the Federal Police, to his appeal at the second level court in Porto Alegre and Federal Judge Sergio Moro’s order for his imprisonment, even before the Supreme Court had officially issued its ruling on Lula’s Habeas Corpus or his recourses to justice had been fully exhausted.

These events have prompted more than 100 jurists to write the book Comments of a Notorious Verdict: the Trial of Lula, which has been translated into English and made freely available online.

The Supreme Court also vented its own concerns, featured, for example, in Justice Ricardo Lewandowski’s justification in granting the Habeas Corpus. He cited that courts are fallible and, in this particular case, the appeal court that upheld Judge Moro’s ruling failed to provide adequate reasons for its decision.

Many believe that the speed of proceedings against Lula is a sign that those in power do not want him to run in the October presidential elections.

And the lack of due process in Lula’s case has managed to achieve a very rare thing, not only in Brazil, but in the world: unite the left, left of centre, progressives and democrats in general.

That is why it was not just the ‘usual suspects’ who surrounded Lula in the city of his ‘political birth’, São Bernardo do Campo, just before he gave himself up.

Progressive politicians of all hues were there to show solidarity to the former president, including the other two left wing presidential hopefuls, Manuela d’Ávila, of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCdoB) and Guilherme Boulos, leader of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), running for the Socialism & Liberty Party (PSOL).

That is also why many now consider Lula not a criminal, but a political prisoner.


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