Brazilian jurists call on U.N. to report on Bolsonaro attacks on judiciary

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FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Supreme Federal Court Judge Toffoli gestures towards Brazil's President Bolsonaro during a ceremony in Brasilia

(Reuters) - Brazil's democracy and independence of its judiciary are under threat from the government of president Jair Bolsonaro as it prepares for elections in October, a group of lawyers and legal experts said on Wednesday in a petition to the United Nations.

The group of 80 jurists and legal researchers appealed to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to visit Brazil and report the current attacks on the Supreme Court and the Superior Electoral Court that oversees elections.

The courts face an unprecedented campaign of distrust and public threats to judges who decide against the government's agenda, they said in their petition.

"Moreover, without any evidence, Bolsonaro publicly

claims that the Brazilian electoral system can be and has been rigged, and has even claimed that the TSE judges are behind such alleged frauds," the petition to the U.N. rapporteur said.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly alleged that Brazil's voting system is liable to fraud, without providing any evidence, even though he was elected in 2018 with the electronic machines introduced 26 years ago.

Before a crowd of thousands of supporters on Sept. 7 last year, Bolsonaro uttered a series of direct threats to the Supreme Court, extolling disobedience to judicial decisions and even threatening specific judges, the petition said.

"The Brazilian Judiciary is under siege. Judicial independence in Brazil is facing challenges that are unprecedented since democratization in the 1980s," it said.

Bolsonaro's attacks on the judiciary and Brazil's electronic voting system have raised fears he will not accept defeat in October in a race in which he is trailing his leftist rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, setting the stage for an institutional crisis in Latin America's biggest country.

Bolsonaro has also suggested that the armed forces, whose current and former members are employed throughout his government, should conduct their own parallel vote count.

Earlier on Wednesday, the president's son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said Brazil could face political instability if the electoral court known as the TSE did not provide more transparency about its voting system.

(Reporting by Carolina Pulice in Mexico City and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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