The misrepresentation of the concept of freedom of expression has been used by far-right authorities to justify incitement to violence. By spreading the idea that, in the name of a supposed individual “freedom”, it is worth saying any offense, propagating violence, acting against the law and violating rights, these authorities contribute to organizing hate speech.
As if it were an almost invisible agent, the distorted message reaches the public – boosted by social networks and messaging apps – is capable of legitimizing other hostilities, injuries, violations, in addition to creating a sense of belonging to a group of people who composes with these contents and defends them without question. From this understanding and feeling, some may feel supported to act and multiply these ideas.
The presidential grace granted to federal deputy Daniel Silveira (PTB-RJ) by the President of the Republic, Jair Bolsonaro (PL), is symbolic of how far the use of the concept of freedom of expression can go and the danger that this distortion represents to democracy, especially when propagated by those in power.
But the conception described in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the opposite of what these authorities are trying to defend: first of all, freedom of expression is a concept developed historically to protect populations against authoritarian governments. In other words, it is one of the engines of democracy and the rule of law. Therefore, it should not be used to erode democracy.
“In societies where the electoral process is consolidated, with participation through voting, in which there is distribution between the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Powers, freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental pillar, which is only possible in a democracy if the population can express their opinion”, says Denise Dora, executive director in Brazil and Latin America of Artigo 19, a civil society organization dedicated to defending the right to freedom of expression around the world.
“This is different from a person being able to say anything. Freedom of expression is a historic process that aims to ensure that the organized population, that social groups and not just individuals, can bring their demands to the public debate. different voices can express themselves, especially those that are not in power.”
What is currently happening in Brazil, motivated by Bolsonarist politicians, is an inverse movement. An attempt is made to undermine the right to freedom of expression by promoting speeches in which dissonant voices are silenced with violent messages. This is the case, for example, of the attitude of deputy Daniel Silveira when he broke the plaque honoring councilwoman Marielle Franco (PSOL-RJ), murdered by militiamen in Rio de Janeiro in 2018. Marielle was a parliamentarian like him. The right to life is universal. Breaking the tribute and propagating this image is a gesture of hatred.
“Freedom of expression should not be used in a cynical way to support any speech”, says the executive director of Article 19.
The message that Silveira distributed is that the lives of certain people represented by Marielle are worthless, and that their demands should not be listened to or their rights respected.
Silveira’s election to the Chamber allowed him to further test the edges of democracy, in a game with the President of the Republic himself and his parliamentary sons throughout the three and a half years of government. When the judiciary reacted — which is its role — it was Bolsonaro’s turn to impose his desires and reveal himself increasingly authoritarian.
The process has evolved so much that the individual pardon granted by Bolsonaro to Silveira has become the possibility for the country’s president to publicly raise the suspension of the election if he considers that there has been “something abnormal”, as he did at an event this Wednesday (27). He defended that the military carry out a “parallel investigation” of the election and cast doubt on the fairness of the electoral process. An environment has been created in which anything can be done.
On the same occasion, deputies from the evangelical parliamentary front and from the bullet bench read a manifesto for “freedom of expression”.
“Words organize actions. In a digitalized and virtual world, they gain a scale in the sense of organizing an entire population for violence”, says Denise Dora. “It is very worrying that they do this using the idea of freedom of expression, how to organize, propagate, incite violence with discriminatory narratives, which reinforce prejudices, which can lead people to use violence in their relationships, if it were freedom of expression. yeah. It’s another territory. Freedom of expression is an instrument in which everyone wants to live, without threatening anyone’s life and dignity.”
Going beyond this limit characterizes an abuse of the right to express oneself. Freedom requires responsibility. Violence can break out at any time.