Brazil's Supreme Court to rule on prison for Lula

Erika Holt
April 5, 2018

Justices on a divided top court traded barbs Wednesday night as they weighed whether former President Luiz Inacio Silva, leading preference polls to return to Brazil's presidency, should be allowed to put off beginning a 12-year sentence while he appeals a corruption conviction.

After almost 11 hours of often heated debate, the justices of the Supreme Federal Tribunal voted 6-5 to deny da Silva's preventative habeas corpus request to stave off a 12-year jail sentence while he fights a conviction in a case that he argues was nothing more than a ploy to keep him off October's presidential ballot.

The decision by the Supreme Federal Tribunal means that da Silva will likely soon be forced to begin serving his 12-year sentence.

Lula claims the charges are politically motivated, and to prevent him from running in October's presidential election. His imprisonment has always been the goal of prosecutors running Brazil's "Car Wash" anti-graft investigation and he is now their biggest scalp.

Within minutes of the decision, da Silva's Workers' Party, which held Brazil's presidency from 2003 to 2016, sent out a tweet that foreshadowed the struggles to come.

Lula is still Brazil's most popular politician, despite his conviction and six separate pending corruption trials.

Journalist Michael Fox has more.

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Da Silva wants the court to spare him prison while he appeals. However, Lula applied to the Supreme Court for habeas corpus, allowing him to remain free during the appeals, potentially keeping him out of jail for a long period.

Lula da Silva was initially found guilty of the charges in July 2017.

More than 20,000 people gathered in Sao Paolo on Tuesday, calling for his immediate imprisonment while supporters too rallied in large numbers in a rival demonstration.

General Eduardo Villas Boas wrote that the army along with "all good citizens, repudiates impunity and respects the Constitution, social peace and democracy".

The comment, likely to be seen as backing prison for Lula, was a rare foray into politics by a general in a country that was under military dictatorship for two decades until 1985.

"In Brazil's current situation, it's worth asking our institutions and the people who is really thinking about what is best for the country and future generations, and who is only anxious about their personal interests?" the general wrote in one tweet. But Brazil's defence minister argued on Wednesday that Villas Boas was simply trying to reassure the nation.

In a statement to O Globo, Gen. Joaquim Silva e Luna, the defense minister, said Boas' intention was to assure people that force would not be used.

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