Brazil’s jailed ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived Saturday in Sao Paulo under police escort after receiving permission to attend the funeral of a grandson who died aged seven.
Early in the day the popular longtime leader of Brazil stepped out of his cell in Curitiba — where he is serving two concurrent 12-year sentences for corruption — before flying in a small plane to Sao Paulo, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the northeast.
A federal court ruled late Friday that the 73-year-old Lula could be released for a few hours to travel to the funeral service of young Arthur Araujo Lula da Silva, who had meningitis.
Arthur, who had twice visited his grandfather in his cell in Curitiba, died Friday in a Sao Paulo hospital.
The service was being held at the Sao Bernardo do Campo cemetery in a Sao Paulo suburb. Arthur’s father Sandro is one of Lula’s five sons.
Under tight security, the service was being attended by several friends and allies of the former president, including his successor Dilma Rousseff, along with many supporters wearing the red colour of Lula’s Workers’ Party.
Gleisi Hoffmann, the leader of the Workers’ Party, visited Lula in prison after he learned of Arthur’s death and said the ageing leftist was “downcast.”
“He cried several times and we tried to console him,” she said.
While news of Arthur’s death provoked sympathetic messages on social media, a son of President Jair Bolsonaro sparked a new controversy by criticizing Lula’s release.
“Lula is a common-law prisoner,” Eduardo Bolsonaro, a deputy in his father’s Social Liberal Party, said on Twitter. “When a relative of another prisoner dies, is he escorted by the federal police to go to the services?”
He called the temporary release “absurd,” adding, “It only allows a high-profile thug to pass himself off as a victim.”
That remark prompted an angry social media backlash, which prompted a more conciliatory tweet from the younger Bolsonaro, saying politics aside, the death of a child is “dreadful.”
His father, the president, who said he hoped Lula would “rot in prison” during the 2018 campaign, has made no comment on the matter.