Punishing Bolsonaro for hate speech is up to interpretation

Experts estimate that punishing the president for statements can be a “shot in the foot” of opponents

Angela Pino
Sao Paulo-SP

Without a clear legal definition or uniform precedents from the STF (Supreme Federal Court), framing President Jair Bolsonaro’s (PL) statements as hate speech is up to interpretation.

For some experts on the subject, some of Bolsonaro’s statements could be framed in this way and could be punished for crimes such as racism and apologizing for a criminal act.
Others see the risk that any classification in this way could lead to widespread censorship of political speech in the country.

The debate over the issue came after the killing of PA gunman Marcelo de Arruda, who was killed by Bolsonaro criminal policeman Jorge Guaranyo, who stormed his birthday party, witnesses said, shouting pro-presidential slogans. On Friday (15), the Civil Police of Paraná announced the conclusion of the investigation, saying that the killing had a basic motive and that technically it would not be classified as a hate crime, against political or democratic rule of law. due to lack of elements for it.

Accused of inciting violence, Bolsonaro defended himself by insulting his image. He said he refused to support those who used violence against opponents and called a wing of Marcelo’s family more sympathetic to him. In the telephone conversation, he devoted himself more to protecting himself than expressing solidarity with the relatives of the murdered P.T.

Representatives of former President Lula’s coalition parties went to the PGR (General Prosecutor’s Office) to investigate Bolsonaro for political violence, the forcible abolition of democratic rule of law, incitement to crime and pardoning of crimes or criminals.

There is no specific crime of hate speech in the Brazilian Penal Code. Therefore, any statement interpreted in this way must be framed in criminal types, such as in the representation made to the PGR, or in other ways, such as racism, for example.


The 2013 UN Rabat Plan of Action sets out six conditions for assessing a potential crime in a declaration. Are they?

  • 1) the social and political context in which the speech was delivered;
  • 2) speaker category.
  • 3) the intention.
  • 4) content and form of speech.
  • 5) volume of discussion.
  • 6) and the possibility of causing damage.

Bolsonaro’s phrase most associated with hate speech is his statement about “shooting shots” at a campaign event in 2018. “We’re going to shoot all over here in Acre. Let’s get these hoes out of Acre. Since they love Venezuela so much, this gang has to go there. But they don’t even have mortadella there, people have to eat its grass,” he said at the time.

Other statements were also recalled, such as “an armed people will never be enslaved” or the September 7 coup threat speech when the president announced that his only options were to be arrested, killed or win the election. which will never be arrested. An event at the Hebraica Club in Rio de Janeiro in 2018 also returned to the debate. “I went to quilombola in Eldorado Paulista. You see, the lightest Afro-descendant there weighed seven aroba. They do nothing. I think they are not even good for breeding anymore,” Bolsonaro said at the time.


For Gustavo Bienenboim, a lawyer and professor at the University of Rio de Janeiro, the speeches about “shooting the petralhada” and in particular the speeches given at the Hebrew club are examples of Bolsonaro’s speeches inciting violence. to some characteristics of the target group. He reminds the statement of the judge of the US Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., that one cannot protect the freedom of speech, who shouts fake “fire” in a crowded theater.


For Binenbojm, the STF should have clearer judging criteria for so-called hate speech cases. He cites the court’s decision to convict Deputy Daniel Silveira (PTB), remove parliamentary immunity and acquit Bolsonaro of speeches at a Hebrew club under the guise of parliamentary immunity.

Lawyer Andre Perekmanis also says he has no doubt that the talk about “shooting guns” is hate speech. “It is a public speech directed at an identifiable group, with a discourse of extermination,” he says. But, like Binenboim, Perekmanis considers the possibility of Bolsonaro to be held responsible for these lines during his term of office to be virtually zero, since any criminal action would have to be proposed by the Attorney General of the Republic, who has at various times presented himself as such. in line with the president.

For Samuel Vida, a professor at the UFBA Law School (Federal University of Bahia), isolated expressions are not the only elements to consider when analyzing hate speech in Bolsonaro’s communications. In his assessment, it is also necessary to take into account other elements, for example, the gun gesture with his hands and coded expressions, such as “you know how to prepare” for the elections. “We are not facing an isolated case, oral incontinence, we are facing episodes that should be perceived as possibly interconnected,” he says. “It is not for nothing that people talk about the office of hatred. It is necessary to investigate to find out who is in the system and what role the president holds.”

Vida said she was particularly concerned about Bolsonaro’s connection between political strife and the use of weapons, such as when he says that “armed men will never be slaves” or that the flag will only be red “if it carries our blood.” keep it green and yellow.”


Despite the concern over Bolsonaro’s speech, other freedom of speech researchers fear that any restrictions on their communication, within the context of hate speech, could be used in the future for broader censorship operations in the country. For lawyer Arianne Neri, researcher at the research group on freedom of expression in Brazil at Pleb – PUC-Rio, the lack of consistency between the decisions of the judiciary creates uncertainty in the analysis of the topic.

Professor Fabio Carvalho Leite, the coordinator of the group, believes that criminalizing Bolsonaro’s speech could be a “shot in the foot”, that is, it could give arguments for censorship to people who are against this type of speech today. He gives the example of the slogan “shoot the fascists” compared to “shoot the gun”. Although arguments can be used to distinguish one sentence from another, it is also possible to somehow align them, Leite says, which would be problematic. “After Bolsonaro’s speech, no one fired a machine gun, just as no one set fire to fascists or Bolsonaro’s supporters.”

He does not deny the concern about the episodes and the increase in tension mainly against the people of the PA three months before the elections, but he questions the issue that the law should solve the issue. “Do nothing [em relação a esses discursos] it’s a problem, but that’s it,” he sums up.



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