By Lisandra Paraguassu and Maria Carolina Marcello
BRASILIA – An opposition party on Friday filed a constitutional complaint at Brazil’s Supreme Court against a pardon granted by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to an ally who the court sentenced to nearly nine years in prison for anti-democratic threats.
On Thursday, Bolsonaro decreed a pardon for Congressman Daniel Silveira, a former Rio de Janeiro police officer, a day after the court sentenced him to 8 years and 9 months in prison for interference with the free exercise of government and threatening judicial authorities.
The pardon has exacerbated tensions between the nation’s executive and judiciary, threatening a constitutional crisis during an election year when Bolsonaro is seeking a second term.
Silveira provoked controversy last year by questioning the integrity of several justices on the top court, known as the STF, and calling on Bolsonaro supporters to invade its building.
He said an anti-democratic decree in place during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship should be reinstated.
The Sustainability Network party, or Rede Sustentabilidade, argued that the presidential pardon is a breach of the country’s constitution because it does not serve the public interest but Bolsonaro’s personal interest in protecting an ally.
The president cannot take “unconstitutional measures” just to please his voters, the party said in its complaint. Or else, Brazil is at risk of becoming once again a “tyrannical state” subject to the will of an authoritarian ruler, it said.
The party said the pardon should be declared null and void as it was granted before Silveira’s conviction became final. Silveira can still appeal to the Supreme Court itself.
Bolsonaro and his allies have complained of increasing judicial overreach by the STF. They criticized the Wednesday ruling as a politically motivated threat to free speech.
His opponents cheered the verdict because they see the former army captain and his cohorts as a threat to democracy, and some fear Bolsonaro may not concede defeat if he loses in October since he has argued that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud.
Former Chief Justice Carlos Ayres Britto said the Constitution does not allow pardoning attacks on democracy.
Lawyer Belisario dos Santos Junior said Brazil’s Constitution does give presidents the prerogative to pardon individuals even though they may be highly controversial, and noted the 1974 pardoning of Nixon by U.S. President Gerald Ford.
But he said Bolsonaro abused his power pardoning a person who offends democracy and the Supreme Court the way he has done.