President Jair Bolsonaro takes part in ceremony to swear in the general director of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), Alexandre Ramagem. Photo: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil

In January 2019, in one of his first acts as Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro issued a Provisional Executive Order (number 870) giving the Secretariat of Government the power to monitor the activity of civil society organizations. The Order was harshly criticized for its authoritarian and repressive nature and it was eventually overturned by Congress. 

However, the government did not admit defeat and shortly afterwards appointed an agent from ABIN (Brazilian Intelligence Agency), whose identity is confidential, to the Department of Relations with International Organizations and Civil Society Organizations, of the Special Secretariat of Social Liaison, in a clear attempt to subvert the decision of the Legislature.

According to Conectas, the case is an example of a government that views civil society as an enemy to be monitored and combated. The organization filed a Public Civil Action calling for the decree appointing the agent to be repealed, for the agent to be removed from office and for a ban on appointing intelligence officers to similar positions.

In the case, the organization argued that the secrecy of the agent’s identity is incompatible with positions that require a relationship and ongoing dialogue with society. It also said that, if the officer were to remain in the position, the Secretariat would be unable to do its job, which is illegal from the point of view of the principles of public administration. 

Conectas also argued that the case demonstrates an attempt by the government to circumvent the decision by Congress that banned the monitoring of NGOs by the Secretariat of Government – which constitutes a misuse of its power. Finally, the organization claimed that the appointment represents a procedural breach, since the agent was assigned from ABIN to hold a position in another department, in violation of the principle of efficiency in the allocation of resources, given that the intelligence service is highly specialized.

Technical information

  • Case: ACP 5004853-77.2020.4.03.6100
  • Court: 10th Federal Civil Court of São Paulo
  • Status: The request for an injunction was accepted by the trial court, but the federal government appealed and the case was suspended in the appeals court.
  • Procedure:
    • 6/9/20: trial court judge grants injunction and suspends the appointment
    • 7/16/20: appellate judge accepts appeal filed by the federal government and suspends the injunction and the case
    • 10/24/20: panel judges in favor of the request by the federal government and the case is suspended