Brazil judge orders Bolsonaro to testify about capital attack

Supreme Court justice’s order is part of a probe into January 8 riots that saw Bolsonaro supporters storm government buildings.

Ex-President Jair Bolsonaro purses his lips while watching a "Power of The People" event hosted by Turning Point USA
Former President Jair Bolsonaro has denied any responsibility for the January 8 attack on Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace by a mob of his supporters [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]

A Brazilian Supreme Court justice has ordered former President Jair Bolsonaro to testify within 10 days about the storming of key government buildings in the country’s capital by a mob of his supporters earlier this year.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes on Friday agreed to a request filed by the country’s top public prosecutor who said Bolsonaro’s testimony was an “indispensable” step to be able to clarify what happened on January 8 in Brasilia.

“I grant the request made by the Attorney General of the Republic and order the Federal Police to proceed with the hearing of Jair Messias Bolsonaro,” Moraes, who also heads Brazil’s electoral authority, wrote in the order.

Bolsonaro has faced months of criticism and swirling questions around his alleged role in the riots, which saw thousands of his supporters ransack Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace.

Some rioters had hoped to instigate a military coup against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in the October 2022 election and was inaugurated just days before the attack on Brazil’s state institutions.

Bolsonaro has denied any responsibility for the riots, which recalled the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, whom the ex-Brazilian president had emulated.

The far-right former army captain argued that he was out of the country in self-imposed exile in Florida, where he flew two days before his term ended after failing to publicly concede defeat to Lula.

But even before his election loss, Bolsonaro began to spread baseless rumours about the legitimacy of the vote, questioning whether Brazil’s electronic voting system – used for nearly a quarter century – was vulnerable to fraud.

After his defeat, his political allies also filed a complaint with the Superior Electoral Court in an attempt to invalidate ballots processed through certain electronic voting machines, citing “serious failures” and “malfunction”. Their effort was rejected.

Still, Bolsonaro’s false electoral fraud claims spurred many of his supporters to protest.

Truckers – a key Bolsonaro constituency – blocked hundreds of roads in the days following the election, while others formed camps near military barracks, calling on the army to intervene on the ex-president’s behalf.

On January 8, a week after Lula’s inauguration, tensions boiled over, with hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters marching on the Three Powers Plaza in an apparent attempt to disrupt the transfer of power.

Rioters smashed windows, clashed with police and vandalised the government buildings.

Demonstrators wearing green and yellow shirts are seen atop government buildings in Brasilia, as well as on the lawn below. Some are draped with the Brazillian flag.
Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings on January 8, 2023, in Brasilia [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Lula has since accused Bolsonaro of masterminding the violence. “I am certain that Bolsonaro actively participated in that and is still trying to participate,” he told RedeTV! in the wake of the violence, calling it an attempted “coup”.

Hundreds of rioters were arrested in the days after the attack and Bolsonaro and other officials have been scrutinised for their alleged roles.

Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Justice and Public Security Anderson Torres, who was in charge of security in Brasilia at the time of the attack, was arrested on suspicion of “omission” and “connivance”.

Police have also searched the homes and offices of a number of others, including Bolsonaro’s nephew Leonardo Rodrigues de Jesus.

The raids are designed to identify those “who participated in, funded or fostered” the anti-democracy protests, according to authorities.

Bolsonaro, who returned to Brazil at the end of last month, faces a number of investigations on top of the January 8 probe.

Among them is an investigation into sets of jewellery, valued at more than $3.2m, allegedly brought into Brazil from Saudi Arabia by members of Bolsonaro’s former administration without proper documentation or declarations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies