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Brazil: Freedom of Assembly and Expression Upheld by Federal Supreme Court

(June 20, 2011) On June 15, 2011, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court ruled in favor of public demonstrations that defend the legalization of drug use, like the Marijuana March (Marcha da Maconha). The Court expressed the opinion that the constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression must be respected. The Court also opined that the marches should not be considered crimes, because they do not foster or defend the use of drugs, but rather are designed to bring about a review of public policies.

The case at hand was filed in 2009 by the Federal Prosecutor's Office (Ministério Público Federal), which asked for an interpretation of article 287 of the Penal Code according to the Constitution. Article 287 prescribes a punishment of three to six months in prison and a fine for whoever publicly justifies, defends, or praises criminal acts or the perpetrator of a crime.

Many decisions have been issued by lower court judges prohibiting the marches, because the consumption of marijuana in Brazil is banned, and the courts' interpretation of the law had been that the marches contravened the above-cited provision of the Penal Code by defending the use of drugs. (Débora Zampier, STF Libera Realização de Passeatas que Defendem a Legalização do Uso de Drogas, AGÊNCIA BRASIL (June 16, 2011).)