Police call for Bolsonaro to be charged for spreading Covid misinformation

Brazil’s federal police ask supreme court to charge president over bogus claims in October 2021 social media broadcast

Brazilian federal police have called for President Jair Bolsonaro to be charged with spreading fake information about a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 680,000 of his citizens, including bogus claims of a link between Aids and Covid vaccines.

Bolsonaro’s anti-scientific response to a disease he called “a bit of a cold” has been internationally condemned and the subject of a congressional inquiry in which the far-right populist was accused of deliberately delaying vaccine purchases and promoting quack “cures” such as hydroxychloroquine.

On Wednesday night a senior federal police investigator was reported to have written to the supreme court asking for Bolsonaro to be questioned and charged with the crime of incitement, when someone encourages another person to commit an offence. That alleged crime, which is punishable with up to six months in prison, relates to a notorious social media broadcast in October 2021 which was subsequently removed by YouTube and Facebook.

In the deleted transmission Bolsonaro falsely claimed face masks – the compulsory use of which he repeatedly flouted – had been responsible for many of the deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic.


“[The president] in a direct, spontaneous and conscious manner disseminated the disinformation that victims of the Spanish flu had in fact died as a result of bacterial pneumonia caused by the use of masks, instilling in viewers’ minds a veritable disincentive to their use in the fight against Covid at a time when the use of masks was compulsory,” the police report said.

In the same live broadcast Bolsonaro falsely claimed government studies in the UK suggested fully vaccinated people were developing Aids “much faster than expected”. British officials rejected the claims.

In her report the federal police investigator Lorena Lima Nascimento said that untrue claim could generate public “alarm over a non-existent danger” and constituted a misdemeanour.

Bolsonaro’s botched Covid response has become a central issue in the presidential election campaign, which formally kicked off this week ahead of a first-round vote on October 2nd.

On Tuesday the leftist frontrunner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, used his first campaign event to savage Bolsonaro’s reaction to the pandemic, telling supporters his rival “hadn’t shed a single tear” for its victims and appeared to be “possessed by the devil”. Directing himself to Bolsonaro, Lula asked: “How many children are now orphans because you were a denialist and didn’t believe in science or medicine?”

The federal police inquiry into Bolsonaro’s alleged Covid crimes was ordered last December at the end of a congressional inquiry into his handling of the public health emergency.

Bolsonaro has yet to comment on the reports but showed signs of stress on Thursday when he was filmed setting upon a protester who called him a cowardly “scumbag”. In images that went viral on social media Bolsonaro can be seen grabbing the man’s shirt and then his arm before the objector is bundled away by security guards.