The Rise of State-sponsored Censorship in Brazil

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The Rise of State-sponsored Censorship in Brazil
The Rise of State-sponsored Censorship in Brazil
Photo:  © Ricardo Stuckert/PR, CC BY 3.0 BR

A totalitarian tendency has been accelerating across the world with frightening speed. Governments, often with the assistance of Big Tech, are eliminating the constitutional free speech rights of their citizens and redefining what passes for acceptable speech, all in the name of “democracy.

This phenomenon is sweeping across the Western world. In many European countries, so-called “hate speech” is banned with heavy fines or even jail time for violators. In practice, speech critical of Islam or homosexuality is punished, while speech and even violence against Christians are allowed. Canada passed a “Digital Charter” that bans “hate speech” without defining it. Early last year, American president Joe Biden announced the establishment of a “Disinformation Governance Board” of the Department of Homeland Security but quickly backtracked after a massive wave of protests.

The latest threat comes from South America under the rule of Brazil’s newly-elected socialist president, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. After his release from jail on a legal technicality, he ran against and defeated the conservative president Jair Bolsonaro last year in a close and hotly contested election. Now, Lula is moving full speed ahead to silence any political opposition to his rule.

However, the leftist war on free speech in Brazil has been building for years. First, some background. Lula previously served two terms as president of Brazil from 2003-2011 as the leader of the socialist Brazilian Workers Party (PT). His administration was plagued by financial scandals and corruption, which led to his conviction and imprisonment for corruption in 2017. Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s hand-picked successor to the presidency, was impeached and removed from office in 2016 for similar accusations.

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These scandals and political upheavals took place at the same time that Brazil was experiencing a massive swing to the right. Millions of Brazilians attended rallies against Lula, Dilma Rousseff, and the PT. This shift culminated with the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro, the first conservative president of the country since the eighties. President Bolsonaro, whose election was a symbol of this rightward shift, began to implement conservative, anti-socialist policies in Brazil that infuriated the Brazilian left.

After Bolsonaro’s election, the Brazilian judiciary—particularly the Supreme Court—began persecuting and silencing conservative Brazilian politicians and activists. Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes accused hundreds of journalists and conservatives of spreading “fake news” and ordered the shutdown of their social media accounts, the removal of conservative elected officials, the jailing of conservative activists for “anti-democratic acts,” and even the banning of the app Telegram in Brazil for refusing to shut down conservative channels.

Lula, elected in 2003 under the slogan “little Lula, peace and love” (Lulinha, paz e amor), has been making statements evocative of the Stalinist era. When a Brazilian pro-life activist exposed the practice of forced abortions at a hospital in the city of Recife, she was arrested and fined for “anti-democratic acts.” Lula called for her “not to be executed, but to be re-educated.”1

During last year’s election, Lula spoke publicly no less than nine times about the need to “regulate” both traditional and online media, including social media. “We are definitely going to regulate communications in this country because it will be good for the country and the economy, and it will be much better and healthier for democracy,” he said.2 Last year, Lula’s political party, the PT, sued in the Brazilian electoral court to censor hostile journalists and online content during the election. Lula defended the action, saying it is necessary “to re-educate Brazilian society on how to use the media.”3

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Shortly after Lula assumed the office as president on January 1, he announced the creation of not one but three government offices to fight against “disinformation” and “fake news”: The first is the “National Prosecutor of the Union for the Defense of democracy” under the Attorney General, with the stated goal of “representing the Union, judicially and extra-judicially, in demands and procedures for responding to and dealing with misinformation on public policies.”

The new Brazilian Attorney General Jorge Rodrigo Messias, while admitting that there is no law that defines “misinformation,” nevertheless proposed his own: “Willful, malicious lying, with the clear objective of harming the correct execution of public policies with prejudice to society and with the objective of promoting deliberate attacks on the members of the Branches with lies that effectively embarrass the exercise of their public functions.”

Another government agency to regulate speech is the Department for the Promotion of Freedom of Expression, under the direct authority of Lula himself. It aims to “propose and articulate public policies to promote freedom of expression, access to information and to confront disinformation and hate speech on the Internet, in coordination with the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety.”

A third entity to regulate speech is the newly created Special Advisor for the Defense of Democracy, Memory, and Truth under the Ministry of Human Rights.

In all these cases, the government proposes itself to be the ultimate judge for defining what is truth and what is error, what is good speech and what is subversive, illegal speech. The definitions it gives for “hate speech” or “fake news” are so vague and ambiguous that they can be applied to any speech that the current government doesn’t like.

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Most frightening is the Orwellian character of this new government. In creating these “Ministries of Truth,” one could legitimately ask if the Lula government is deliberately trying to evoke George Orwell. In his novel 1984, Orwell depicted a totalitarian society in which Big Brother would oversee and punish any citizen who violates the speech restrictions of the official Ministry of Truth. Those who use ideas outside of Newspeak were guilty of “thought crimes.”

Even worse, this new society not only punished citizens who broke the speech codes but changed the meaning of language itself. English was deconstructed and replaced with “Newspeak” to better control the minds and ideas of the people. As Orwell wrote: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” This is exactly what is happening with governments today. Terms such as “truth,” “fake news” and “democracy” are abused and redefined to mean something completely different than their traditional dictionary definitions.

In Lula’s inaugural speech on January 1, he declared that his government would rule under the slogan “democracy forever.” It’s clear that “democracy” for him and the global left does not mean voting or the traditional freedoms enjoyed in Western countries but rather the censorship of any idea that opposes the forward march of socialism. In the name of moral relativism, they impose their ideology with an iron fist and root out all opposition, just like their fellow socialists in China, Cuba, or North Korea.

This is ironic because it is the left that preaches moral relativism and the denial of absolute truth, especially religious and moral truth. The ultimate fake news is Gender Theory, Marxism, and Critical Race Theory, all of which deny self-evident biological or historical truth.

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Leftists are using the violent and deplorable sacking of the presidential palace in the Brazilian capital as a pretext for their crackdown on speech. The Brazilian left has, in fact, long talked about banning speech. The violence will only accelerate this process.

Seen from another perspective, this clampdown is a sign of a failure of the radical left. It no longer has the power of persuasion that it once had. A few generations ago, it could rely on massive support from public opinion to advance its policies. Although it controls the media and most institutions, it has only tepid support among the general public. Public opinion across the Western world has shifted sharply to the right. In the sixties, the left could mobilize millions of people to rally for its causes in the streets. Now, most public rallies are in opposition to its policies. As the left’s power of persuasion has broken down, it is forced to resort to censorship and dictatorship.

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” In the future, the only legal answer will be: whatever the state says it is.



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