On the anniversary of the imprisonment of former Workers Party president Lula da Silva, tens of thousands protested in Brazil and around the world demanded his release. Mike Fox reports from Curitiba, Brazil
Some of the largest demonstrations were held in Sao Paulo and in Curitiba, where organizers said 10,000 people turned out. They traveled here from around the country and rallied outside the federal police prison where Lula is held.
Roberto Requião, former Parana state governor: We are here, because we are conscious that we are calling for the freedom of a political prisoner.
Among those who took the stage were former presidential candidate Fernando Haddad and Workers Party president Gleisi Hoffmann. Brazilian congresswoman Benedita da Silva read a letter from former president Dilma Rousseff.
Benedita da Silva, Rio de Janeiro Congresswoman: Even in prison, you are the greatest enemy of the neofascism that is threatening us. Over these 365 days of unjust imprisonment, you have shown the Brazilian people that it is possible to resist even in the worst conditions.
Lula was arrested last year after he was convicted of accepting a beach-side apartment from a company seeking government contracts. But his conviction was based on plea bargain testimony and scant evidence. He and his supporters have always maintained his innocence.
Joao Pedro Klinkerfus, University Student, Santa Catarina:Lula left office in 2009. Then suddenly, in 2017, after his name was floated as a potential presidential candidate, supposed evidence began to surface, although none of it was concrete. So you start to think. Alright, something is not right here.
Joao Pedro was one of many in the crowd who expressed how Lula changed his life, by opening access to education for himself and his family.
Joao Pedro Klinkerfus, University Student: I just turned 18 yesterday. If I can be here, study for free at a quality university, have access to excellent professors and have free healthcare, it’s because of the Lula government.
Lula supporters say his conviction was a means of blocking him from returning to power in last year’s presidential elections. Those here say his freedom is essential for the country’s democracy.
Dennise Ramos, University Student, Salvador, Bahia: We are fighting for our democracy. Defending Lula is key for anything that we are going to fight for in this country. We believe that Lula is a political prisoner. If we defend our country and we don’t defend Lula, we are not defending our democracy.
But supporters of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro disagree. They accuse Lula of being at the head of the country’s Car Wash scandal. They also rallied in dozens of cities around the country on Sunday, celebrating the 1-year anniversary of Lula’s imprisonment.
Thiago Maia, Free Brazil Movement, Curitiba: We celebrated. We brought a cake. We are commemorating not just a year. But we are commemorating justice, which is being served here in the country.
They denounced the country’s Supreme Federal Court, which was expected to rule this week on the Constitutionality of imprisonment after first appeal. If the decision had gone his way, Lula and thousands like him, could have been freed. That ruling has now been postponed. The case is expected to be picked up by the Supreme Judicial Court in the coming weeks.
Last year’s showdown over Lula’s imprisonment marked a historic moment for the left in Brazil. Before finally turning himself in, the former president defied an arrest order for 48 hours. He remained in the headquarters of the metal-workers union in Sao Bernardo do Campo, where he got his start. Thousands came out to defend him, and prepared for the threat of a violent confrontation with police.
Lula finally turned himself in and was flown to the federal prison in Curitiba. That night, supporters and opponents gathered outside the prison. As the helicopter carrying Lula touched down, police fired sock grenades and rubber bullets against Lula’s supporters. The crowd dispersed, but returned within a few hours, launching the vigil that would last until today.
Organizers say they are not leaving until Lula is free. Others called for those in attendance to take their organizing into their communities.
Joao Pedro Stedile, Landless Workers Movement: The moment that we can turn out half a million people in Curitiba, we can free Lula… We each have to go home and go back to doing grassroots work and speak to the people.
More actions and events in support of Lula are planned for the coming days. Organizers are also calling for monthly rallies to continue to push for Lula’s release.