The Brazilian Press Association has expressed plans to file a lawsuit in Brazil’s Supreme Court against President Jair Bolsonaro after the president removed his mask during a press conference on Tuesday, possibly exposing members of the media to COVID-19. The association, known as ABI which advocates for Brazilian journalists, alleged in a statement on Tuesday that Bolsonaro did not respect the safe distance from reporters. They claim he exposed them to the virus during the televised press conference on Tuesday where he announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
The statement accuses Bolsonaro of putting someone’s life at risk and failing to prevent the spread of an infectious disease. Paulo Jeronimo de Sousa, the association’s president, stated that, “The country cannot watch continued behavior that is beyond irresponsible and constitutes clear crimes against public health, without reacting.” The association has since asked that the complaint be sent to the attorney general’s office so that a decision can be made on whether there are grounds to proceed with a criminal probe. Congressman Marcelo Freixo has also followed suit and filed a lawsuit with the Federal Attorney’s Office, citing Articles 131 and 132 of the Penal Code to do so.
There were three TV stations present for the press conference: CNN Brasil, TV Record, and TV Brasil. The journalists present have been told to work from home and quarantine until they test negative for the virus.
The speedy response to the event by ABI should be applauded. The association is doing exactly what it set out to do: advocate for journalists within Brazil. This event is also a microcosm of the greater events throughout Brazil over these past few months. That is, the pandemic has continued to dominate the world and Brazil, and Bolsonaro has continued to ignore the problem. Even as he is directly affected by the virus, Bolsonaro explicitly acts as if it is not a real threat to his country or the people in it. He continues to allow Brazil’s people to be impacted, this time acting himself as the direct threat by removing his mask. However, the difference between Bolsonaro’s previous behaviour and this action goes deeper than the distance. Here, Bolsonaro finally faces real consequences for his actions.
Rather than distant critics in the press that he can easily shut down with cries of “fake news”, Bolsonaro finally faces a direct, harsh threat in the form of a lawsuit. The very crimes he has been accused of committing by the press in far greater numbers are the same ones listed in the lawsuit: putting people’s lives and health at risk, and failing to prevent the spread of an infectious disease. By filing this lawsuit, ABI is doing far more than advocating for the journalists put in danger by Bolsonaro’s short-sighted decisions. The association is advocating for the whole of Brazil over these past few months; all of the pain and deaths they have faced unnecessarily due to Bolsonaro’s inability to recognize the danger of the pandemic.
Now, it is out of ABI’s hands. They have expressed their displeasure at Bolsonaro’s actions, and the issue falls into the hands of the attorney general and Brazil’s Supreme Court. It is up to them to decide whether Bolsonaro can be prosecuted for his actions at the press conference. No matter what unfolds, however, ABI has successfully proven to Bolsonaro that his actions do have consequences, even if they may not directly affect him. He does not live in a bubble – a lesson that will hopefully stick with him moving forward, even if ABI cannot follow through on the lawsuit.
After Bolsonaro’s diagnosis, other ministers in the Brazilian government have also been tested for COVID-19. Secretary of Government Luiz Eduardo Ramos, Regional Development Minister Rogério Marinho, and Chief of Staff Braga Netto all tested negative for the virus. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, Defense Minister General Fernando Azevedo, and Secretary-General of Government Jorge Oliveira, were also tested for the virus, but are still waiting for their own results. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, is currently in quarantine, and has said that he is feeling well. He has yet to respond to the lawsuit. In Brazil, more than 1.7 million people have tested positive for coronavirus. Nearly 68,000 people have died.
No matter what happens with the lawsuit, it has made the consequences of Bolsonaro’s situation far more real. His actions have actively endangered not only the journalists at the press conference and the individuals he has interacted with, but also the millions of people living in Brazil. It is impossible to say exactly where the lawsuit will lead, but hopefully, it is towards a stronger Brazil that is better equipped to respond to threats like the coronavirus.