Thousands in Brazil protest order to remove 'propaganda'
University students hold signs with message that read in Portuguese: âNot Himâ and âMy faith doesnât go with tortureâ during a protest of an electoral court order for universities to remove banners containing ânegative propagandaâ against presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, in front of the Regional Electoral Tribunal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. The Brazilian Bar Association is criticizing the order, releasing a statement that reads the courtâs decision was an attempt to limit the freedom of expression of students and professors. (Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press) October 26 at 7:48 PM
RIO DE JANEIRO â" Two days before Brazil picks its next president, thousands gathered in front of Rio de Janeiroâs electoral court on Friday to protest its ruling forcing universities to remove banners containing allegedly illegal electoral propaganda.
Electoral courts in six other states made similar moves, which led several top Brazilian judges to criticize the decisions as a blow to freedom of speech.
Witnesses say most of the material seized by authorities was either critical of front-runner Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters â" although few mentioned the far-right candidate by name â" or suggested he was a fascist. The former army captain denies he is a radical, but does praise Brazilâs 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
Students and professors accused the Rio court of exercising censorship and working in favor of Bolsonaro, who leads all polls before Sundayâs runoff.
âThe court supports dictatorship,â several demonstrators chanted.
Rosa Maria Weber, who heads Brazilâs top electoral court, said there were âpossibl e excessesâ in the raids of at universities. Brazilâs Attorney-General Raquel Dodge opened an investigation into what she called exaggerations.
Earlier, the Rio chapter of the Brazilian Bar Association said in a statement that the courtâs decision was an attempt to limit the freedom of expression of students and professors at the law school of the Fluminense Federal University.
âWe repudiate the recent decision by the electoral court that censors the freedom of expression of students and professors at the law school who have the constitutional right to manifest themselves politically,â the statement said.
Bolsonaroâs name was not on a banner that read âLaw Students Against Fascism,â but it was taken down earlier this week. Students quickly replaced it with one that said âCensored.â
At Rio de Janeiroâs State University a banner honoring murdered human rights activist Marielle Franco was also taken down.
Franco and her driver, A nderson Pedro Gomes, were killed in April while returning from an event focused on empowering young black women.
Also on Friday, Brazilâs federal police asked WhatsApp which numbers and phones spread content massively during the election. Daily Folha de S.Paulo reported earlier this week that companies illegally financed anti-Haddad ads via WhatsApp by Bolsonaroâs request.
Bolsonaro denied any wrongdoing. He claimed he cannot control how his supporters behave.
Brazilâs top electoral court opened an investigation on the case.
AP writers Savarese and Stan Lehman reported from Sao Paulo.
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