In what has been denounced as an "assault on democracy," Brazil's Supreme Court on Thursday narrowly ruled that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva must begin serving a 12-year sentence on corruption charges that many have argued are part of a false and politically motivated campaign against the nation's most popular political figure.
"Brazil's rightwing knows that it wouldn't stand a chance against Lula in this year's elections."
—Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research"This latest move to circumvent democratic process and keep a popular candidate out of office is another serious blow to Brazil's democratic institutions," Mark Weisbrot, co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), said in a statement responding to the ruling. "It's the second in a one-two punch, the first being the unconstitutional impeachment and removal of elected president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 for something that had been done by previous administrations and was not even a crime."
"Brazil's rightwing knows that it wouldn't stand a chance against Lula in this year's elections, just as it twice lost elections to Lula before, and then twice more to Dilma," Weisbrot added. "So, as with Dilma, they are using other means to keep him out of office."
The court's ruling on Thursday—which was accompanied by massive demonstrations in support of Lula—further destabilizes Brazil's already chaotic political scene, as Lula was widely viewed as the frontrunner heading into the October elections.
Responding to the Supreme Court's ruling in a statement on Thursday, Brazil's Workers' Party—which was launched in 1980 by Lula and a group of left-wing intellectuals and unionists—said Lula's campaign for the presidency will continue, even if he is behind bars.
"The Brazilian people have the right to vote for Lula, the candidate of hope," the statement reads. "The Workers' Party will defend his candidacy in the streets in all circumstances, until the end."
In a letter published in the Guardian on Thursday, a group of British members of parliament, academics, and activists denounced the "concerted campaign against [Lula], where his basic human rights have been breached" and said he should be allowed to continue his presidential campaign.
"Lula has been subjected to a political prosecution and conviction, ignoring evidence of his innocence, and triggering a crisis of confidence in the rule of law," the letter contines. "This is not just about one man but the future of democracy in Brazil. We believe he should be allowed to stand and the Brazilian people allowed to decide their own future."