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LATIN AMERICA | 27-10-2021 12:42

Brazil senators back criminal charges against Bolsonaro

A Brazilian Senate commission approved a damning report on Tuesday that recommends criminal charges be brought against President Jair Bolsonaro, including crimes against humanity, for his Covid policies.

A Brazilian Senate commission approved a damning report on Tuesday that recommends criminal charges be brought against President Jair Bolsonaro, including crimes against humanity, for his Covid policies.

Seven of the panel's 11 senators voted to endorse the text – presented last week after a six-month investigation into Brazil's pandemic response – which also calls for the indictment of 77 other people, including several ministers and three of Bolsonaro's children.

The nearly 1,200-page report also urges Brazil's Supreme Court to suspend the far-right leader's access to his accounts on social media platforms YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for falsely alleging that Covid-19 vaccines were linked to AIDS.

Following dozens of often tense and harrowing hearings, the report finds Bolsonaro "deliberately exposed" Brazilians to "mass infection" in a disastrous attempt to reach herd immunity from the coronavirus.

The report calls for the president to be indicted for nine crimes related to his downplaying Covid-19 and flouting expert advice on containing it. 

They include "crimes against humanity," "prevarication," "charlatanism," and incitement to crime.

The committee does not have the power to bring charges itself, and it is unlikely the attorney general or lower-house speaker – both Bolsonaro allies – will open criminal or impeachment proceedings.

But the report adds to the damage as Bolsonaro reels from his lowest-ever approval ratings, heading into an election in one year's time that polls place him on track to lose to leftist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

And the crimes against humanity charge theoretically has the potential to be tried at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

After the vote the senators observed a minute of silence in tribute to the 606,000 Brazilians who have died from Covid – a toll second only to the United States.

"We can no longer tolerate this type of behaviour," the lawmakers said in a court filing earlier signed by the panel's deputy chair, opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues.


Debunked AIDS claim

The committee hearings, broadcast live, have featured emotional witness statements and chilling revelations about the use of ineffective medication on "human guinea pigs."

The senators' court filing called for the authorities to lift the data confidentiality on Bolsonaro's social media accounts and order Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube owner Google, to provide normally secret information on the president's usage.

The document also called on the high court to order Bolsonaro to make a retraction in a nationally televised address, "refuting any correlation between vaccination against the coronavirus and developing AIDS," or face a fine of 50,000 reais (US$9,000) for every day he fails to comply.

Bolsonaro made the controversial claim Thursday in his weekly social media live address.

He said "official reports" from the British government – which has debunked the claim – "suggest that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 are developing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome much faster than expected."

Facebook removed the video for violating its policies on spreading misinformation. YouTube went a step further Monday, suspending Bolsonaro for a week, in addition to blocking the clip.


'I don't want to lose Facebook'

Bolsonaro appeared to have taken the information from a supposed news story spreading online.

"I recommend you read the article," he said in his video, without saying where the information came from.

"I'm not going to read it here, because I don't want to lose my Facebook live video."

Like former US president Donald Trump, his political role model, Bolsonaro relies heavily on social media to rally his base.

Bolsonaro has had social media posts deleted numerous times in the past for spreading misinformation and inciting people to violate social distancing policies.

However, this is the first time Facebook has taken down one of his weekly live videos, a cornerstone of his communications.

The president, who took office in January 2019, has said he does not plan to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and joked in the past the vaccine could "turn you into an alligator."

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by Jordi Miro, AFP


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