RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva left prison Saturday to attend his 7-year-old grandson’s funeral, taking advantage of his temporary release to reiterate his innocence before political leaders and relatives who had gathered to mourn.
Da Silva, who is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering, was released at 7 a.m. local time from a prison in the Parana state capital of Curitiba. He then flew to Sao Paulo by plane before taking a helicopter to Sao Bernardo do Campo, where the funeral took place.
He will return to his cell later in the afternoon.
A note on da Silva’s website said he spoke at the funeral.
“Ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at his grandson’s funeral that when they meet in heaven, he will bring proof of his innocence for all the bullying that Arthur suffered in school for having a grandfather in prison,” the note said, adding that da Silva said he would prove that the prosecutor and judge who jailed him had lied.
“Lula was very sad, in a lot of pain, destroyed inside, like any human being who has to bury their child who dies in a tragic way,” Joao Pedro Stedile, coordinator of the far-left Landless Workers’ Movement, told The Associated Press. “But politically, it’s impressive…he said to us, ‘Stay strong, I’m going to get out, I am innocent.'”
Da Silva’s grandson, Arthur Lula da Silva, died of meningitis Friday. Arthur is the child of Sandro Luis Lula da Silva, one of the sons of the ex-president.
The funeral marked the first time da Silva has left prison since being jailed in April 2018.
Leaders from the Workers’ Party, including ex-President Dilma Rousseff, came to pay their respects, while around 200 supporters gathered outside the cemetery chanting, “Free Lula!”
Others said that the man popularly known as Lula should not have been allowed to attend.
“Lula is just an inmate and he should be at a common prison. When the relatives of other inmates die will they also be escorted by the federal police for the funeral?” President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, wrote on Twitter on Friday. “It is absurd to even contemplate that. It only lets him pose as a poor thing.”
He later deleted the tweet.
In January, da Silva wasn’t allowed to go to his brother’s funeral despite Brazilian laws which grant inmates permission to leave for the funerals of close family members.
Da Silva’s arrest has divided the country: Some believe justice is being served to a corrupt politician, while others say he’s been unfairly persecuted by Brazil’s elite and a partisan judiciary.
Da Silva served as president between 2003 and 2010.
He was poised to run for president again in October’s election but was barred due to his criminal conviction.
His Workers’ Party says he is a political prisoner.
Video journalist Victor Caivano contributed to this report from Sao Bernardo do Campo.
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