A UN expert today criticized the intimidation of lawyers defending former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, and called on Brazil to make sure its courts treat everyone equally.
“I am alarmed at an apparent strategy by certain prosecutors and judges to intimidate lawyers for doing their job, particularly when they defend politicians,” said Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
“It seems lawyers Roberto Teixeira and Cristiano Zanin Martins have been targeted as part of this coordinated strategy.” Martins and Teixeira are defending the former president over his connection to a corruption investigation, known as the “Car Wash” case.
The home of Martins and the offices of both lawyers were searched on 9 September under “search and seizure” warrants issued by Judge Marcelo Bretas, a trial judge in the 7th Federal Criminal Court of Rio de Janeiro. He also issued warrants against several other lawyers and law firms in connection with the “Car Wash” investigations.
“The spectacular way the police carried out the searches – in full view of journalists who had been tipped off – seems to be part of a strategy aimed at discrediting the lawyers in front of their peers, clients and and the general public,” said García-Sayán.
The same day, the prosecutor in charge of the “Car Wash” investigation brought criminal charges against Martins and Teixeira. The next day Judge Bretas froze the two lawyers’ bank accounts and the accounts of their law firm. The Federal Supreme Court is examining the legality of the search operations and the legal proceedings.
“Lawyers must not be attacked for serving the interests of their clients,” said García-Sayán. “Everyone has the right to be represented, and lawyers should not be identified with their clients or the clients’ causes as a result of performing their professional duties.”
García-Sayán called on Brazilian authorities “to adopt all appropriate measures to ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”
He also reminded Brazil that it is imperative for judges to be impartial, and noted Judge Bretas’s alleged reported connections with political authorities, including President Jair Bolsonaro. On 17 September, the Special Body of the Federal Regional Court of the 2nd Region ruled overwhelmingly – by a vote to 12 to 1 – that open support shown by the judge to the President of Brazil was incompatible with his professional obligations. The Brazilian Bar Association had initiated a disciplinary procedure against the judge in connection with his ties to the president.
“Judges should not put themselves in a position where their independence or impartiality could be questioned,” García-Sayán said. “In order to preserve public confidence in the judicial system, it is necessary for judges to refrain from any political activity that may compromise their independence or jeopardize the appearance of impartiality.
“Impartiality is essential for the proper discharge of the judicial office,” García-Sayán said.
The UN expert has been in contact with the Government of Brazil regarding his concerns. The Government stated that the expert’s letter has been duly transmitted to the competent authorities.