Congress overturns Bolsonaro veto and keeps jail time for creation and spread of false news during electoral campaigns

In a joint session of Congress on the night of Aug. 28, deputies and senators overturned Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's veto of an article of law criminalizing the spread of false news in the context of elections.

c (Photo: Luis Macedo/ Câmara dos Deputados)

The law makes it a crime to create and spread false news about candidates during election times. Violators are subject to 2 to 8 years imprisonment, plus a fine.

However, Bolsonaro had vetoed the article that extends the punishment to anyone who distributes the false content knowing it is a lie with electoral objectives. He had argued that the conduct was similar to the crime of spreading lies in the context of elections, which was already provided for, but with a penalty of six months to two years in prison.

During last year's Brazilian election, a report by Folha de S. Paulo revealed that businessmen had contracted a campaign against the Workers’ Party (PT, for its acronym in Portuguese), of candidate Fernando Haddad, on WhatsApp. At the same time, El País investigated what it called the “‘fake news machine’ in pro-Bolsonaro groups on WhatsApp" and listed the top five lies that allegedly benefited the then-candidate. Most notable is the attribution to Haddad of the creation of an alleged “gay kit” to be distributed in public schools.

The veto was overturned with a vote of 326 to 84 in the Chamber of Deputies and 48 to 6 in the Senate, as reported by Agência Câmara.

“This law wants to prevent people from producing lies to destroy the image of those who make politics their job. Either we fix Brazilian democracy or we will be applauding its destruction,” Deputy Henrique Fontana (PT-RS) told Agência Câmara.

Leader of the Cidadania party, Deputy Daniel Coelho (of Pernambuco), defended the improvement of the text of the article. “The problem is this, as the text looks, we're punishing the person who creates fake news in the same way as the person who simply spreads it. We should build a text punishing parties and politicians, not the citizen,” he told Agência Câmara.

On Twitter, Senate President David Alcolumbre (of the Democrats party) said he had set up a joint parliamentary committee of inquiry to investigate the spread of false news. Fifteen senators and 15 deputies will be part of the committee, according to Alcolumbre, and it will be installed in early September.