SAO PAULO – The imprisonment of Brazilian former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for corruption represents a “global problem,” Nobel Peace Prize-winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel said on Thursday.
“We want Lula to be freed ... What happened is an injustice. The important thing right now is for people to unite to achieve his freedom,” the Argentine artist and activist said, just a few feet from the police lock-up in the southern city of Curitiba, where the former head of state has been jailed since April 7.
Perez Esquivel has been awaiting federal Judge Carolina Moura Lebbos to grant him an authorization to visit Lula, although she has twice rejected his request.
“This is a global problem, we have to free Lula and that will depend on the people’s unity,” the Argentine said.
Perez Esquivel has been gathering support to nominate Lula for a Nobel Peace Prize, and his Change.org campaign has gained more than 200,000 signatures.
Prominent Brazilian theologian and writer Leonardo Boff has also joined the movement seeking to free Lula.
“He was the only president who managed to improve our lives. The best thing he did was to rescue people’s dignity. We want Lula to be freed so that he can serve the Brazilian people,” Boff said during a speech to members of a protest camp set up a few feet away from the police precinct.
Lula was found guilty in July 2017 of accepting bribes in exchange for helping Brazilian construction company OAS obtain lucrative contracts from state oil giant Petrobras.
On Jan. 24, an appeals court voted unanimously to uphold that verdict and to increase Lula’s prison sentence from nine years to 12 years and one month.
The three-judge panel ruled there was sufficient proof that Lula accepted a triplex apartment in the seaside town of Guaruja from OAS in exchange for helping that firm secure contracts with Petrobras.
The case against Lula, who denies any wrongdoing, is based largely on plea-bargained testimony from people already convicted as part of the sprawling Petrobras investigation.
Prosecutors failed to produce any evidence Lula was the legal owner of the residence or even that he ever set foot inside.
Lula, who governed Brazil from 2003-2011, is the nation’s most popular politician and continues to lead the polls ahead of October’s presidential election.
What remains to be seen is whether election authorities will allow his name to appear on the ballot.