Brazil court dodges debate on Lula’s release, days after document leak

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a ceremony in this Feb. 2, 2004 photo. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 June 2019
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Brazil court dodges debate on Lula’s release, days after document leak

  • Leaked Telegram revealed that a judge who handed Lula his first conviction in 2017 improperly collaborated with Car Wash prosecutors to convict and jail the popular ex-president
  • The chats were provided to The Intercept, which said the conviction was to prevent Lula contesting the 2018 presidential election, which he was widely expected to win

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s Supreme Court on Tuesday unexpectedly avoided debating a request for the early release of leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as social media fury intensified over leaked documents showing a conspiracy to keep him out of the 2018 election race.
The court had placed this issue on its docket, but after four hours the five judges retired without addressing it.
Explosive reports published by The Intercept investigative website on Sunday also ignited calls for its American co-founder Glenn Greenwald to be deported from Brazil and for Justice Minister Sergio Moro — who is at the center of the growing scandal over the Car Wash anticorruption investigation — to resign, underscoring the country’s increasing polarization.
Telegram chats provided to The Intercept show Moro — the judge who handed Lula his first conviction in 2017, effectively ending both his election hopes and decades of center-left rule in Brazil — improperly collaborated with Car Wash prosecutors to convict and jail the popular ex-president.
Their aim, according to The Intercept, was to prevent Lula contesting the 2018 presidential election, which he was widely expected to win.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro — who appointed Moro to his cabinet after taking power in January — was the eventual winner.
Some analysts have downplayed the potential fall-out from the revelations in a country where many people are fed up with corrupt leaders and strongly support the Car Wash probe that has claimed scores of political and business scalps since it began in 2014.
While Twitter has been flooded by supporters and opponents of Bolsonaro’s government, there have been no significant street demonstrations over the claims of unethical behavior by Moro and the Car Wash prosecutors.
Calls for Greenwald, who was part of the team that first interviewed Edward Snowden in 2013, to be kicked out of Brazil are growing with #DeportaGreenwald widely shared on Twitter.
“There is a general appreciation of wrongdoing and that ethical boundaries were crossed, but it is unlikely to generate the same levels of indignation as other corruption scandals,” said Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarape Institute, a think tank in Rio de Janeiro.
“All this could change if more damaging evidence emerges, as is likely.”

Brazil's golden era
Bolsonaro, normally quick to denounce critics on Twitter, will refrain from commenting on the case until he meets with Moro Tuesday, his spokesman said on Monday.
Despite the attacks on social media, a defiant Greenwald has promised Sunday’s reports were “just the very beginning.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had been expected to review a petition for Lula’s release from prison where he is serving eight years and 10 months after being convicted of accepting a seaside apartment as a bribe for helping the OAS construction company get lucrative deals with state oil firm Petrobras.
The judges said nothing about when they might discuss the request. They scheduled debate on another Lula appeal — seeking the annulment of his conviction on grounds that Moro is biased, for June 25.
Lula, who led Brazil through a historic boom from 2003 to 2010, earning him the gratitude of millions of Brazilians for redistributing wealth to haul them out of poverty, has denied all the corruption charges against him.
He has long argued they were politically motivated to prevent him from competing in the 2018 election.
“He was quite impacted by the content of the material, but on the other hand it wasn’t new,” said Cristiano Zanin, a member of Lula’s defense team.
In the leaked group chats, Car Wash prosecutors expressed “serious doubts whether there was sufficient evidence to establish Lula’s guilt,” The Intercept said.
The material also shows “prosecutors spoke openly of their desire to prevent the PT (Workers Party) from winning the (2018) election and took steps to carry out that agenda.”
And Moro repeatedly “overstepped the ethical lines that define the role of a judge” by offering prosecutors advice and tips for “new avenues of investigation,” the site said.
Car Wash chief prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol posted a video on Twitter Monday defending his team’s contact with Moro, saying it was normal for prosecutors and lawyers to speak with a judge in the absence of the other party.
“Trying to imagine that the Car Wash probe is a partisan operation is a conspiracy theory with no basis,” he said.


Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 46 sec ago
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Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters faced off Monday as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.
The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the city’s top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.
Hundreds of protesters sat on and along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area.
Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.
Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.
After daybreak Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.
The night before, as protesters reached the march’s end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.
Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.
Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government’s headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam’s decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.
In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government “understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.”
“The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it said.
Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.
“This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!” the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.
Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. But some were skeptical that having Lam step down would help.
“It doesn’t really matter because the next one would be just as evil,” said Kayley Fung, 27.
Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed “one country, two systems,” that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.
She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week’s clashes with demonstrators.
Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.
Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.