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World

Brazilian Politician's Fiery Comments Revives Debate On Free Speech

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A politician in Brazil has sparked fury after a comment during a parliamentary session about a female colleague and rape. As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Sao Paulo, it's not the first time this lawmaker has made crude and misogynistic statements, but the response is different this time.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In the middle of a speech in Congress this December, while standing at the podium, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro had this to say to his female colleague from the ruling party Maria do Rosario Nunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JAIR BOLSONARO: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I told you that I wouldn't rape you because you don't deserve it, he said. This wasn't the first time, though, that this particular politician, who's also made comments against blacks and gays, has leveled that particular insult at Nunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 2003, in an episode filmed by the press, he shouted the same thing to Nunes while she was giving an interview, then called her a whore, pushed her and told her to go and cry about it. A lot has changed in 11 years, and a lot hasn't, say activists. Last time, nothing happened to Bolsonaro. But this time, he is facing three charges. The attorney general has opened a case against him, accusing him of instigating rape. There is a personal lawsuit by Nunes, and four political parties have brought him before the ethics committee, asking for his resignation. Michael Freitas Mohallem is the campaign director of the human rights group Avaaz.

MICHAEL FREITAS MOHALLEM: I believe there is a change going on in recent times. Brazilians are more sensitive towards this type of attack on women's rights and dignity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right now, there is a petition that has been signed by almost 100,000 people called Protect Brazil from Bolsonaro. It's sponsored by Avaaz. Mohallem says politicians have parliamentary immunity protecting what they say in Congress, but...

MOHALLEM: Hate speech has no space in our democracy, although we protect - we value highly freedom of expression. But it must - it does have limits in Brazil, and, definitely, he crossed one of those limits.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dora Martins is a judge who is a member of the organization Judges for Democracy.

DORA MARTINS: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a sad event, she says, that shows still how far we have to go in the fight for women's rights. It was shocking, but it's significant, too, because it reveals a sexist culture that still exists in Brazil, she says. In the recent elections, Bolsonaro was elected to his sixth term in Congress, far outstripping his closest competitors. His most recent statement put on social media is entitled "I Will Never Apologize." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.