Gay Brazilian activist and congressman quits, flees country fearing for his life

A prominent gay congressman in Brazil announces that he is leaving his job and fleeing the country because of increased death threats.

Jean Wyllys says he received numerous death threats

Brazilian congressman Jean Wyllys has quit and fled the country, fearing for his life. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)

Jean Wyllys, an openly gay Brazilian congressman, said on Thursday he will not serve the new term for which he was re-elected due to death threats and plans to now live abroad.

But Wyllys's Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) said his seat in Brasilia will go to a substitute lawmaker who is also gay: Rio councilman David Miranda, the husband of Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald.

In a letter to the party explaining his decision to leave Brazil, Wyllys said death threats made his life unbearable and he hardly left his Rio home. His siblings and his mother had also been threatened, he said in the letter released by the PSOL.

Wyllys said in a newspaper interview that the climate of violence in Brazil, which had one of the world's worst murder rates last year, had worsened since the October election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has disparaged gays and other minorities. 

Wyllys says it wasn't the election of Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro, but the violence that has come with it that spurred him to quit. (Sergio Moraes/Reuters)

"It was not Bolsonaro's election itself," he told Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. "It was the level of violence that has increased since he was elected."

Wyllys said he was tired of living with bodyguards since the execution-style murder last year of popular Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco, a fellow PSOL member.

A legislative aide in Brasilia confirmed that Wyllys will not return to Brazil from his current travels in Europe. The presidential press office declined to comment.                                                                                                     

To preserve one's threatened life is also a strategy to fight for better days.- Jean Wyllys, Brazilian congressman

Wyllys told Folha that he was the target of constant death threats and defamatory campaigns on social media and got pushed in the street even with bodyguards.

"I don't want to sacrifice myself," he told Folha. "I want to take care of myself and stay alive."

The last straw, he said, were revelations that Bolsonaro's son Flavio had employed on his Rio state assembly staff relatives of a fugitive former police officer suspected of involvement in Franco's assassination in March.

Wyllys, 44, was a staunch advocate for gay rights and fought religious discrimination and violence against women during his two terms in Congress.

"To preserve one's threatened life is also a strategy to fight for better days," he said in the newspaper interview.

An elderly man lights a candle during a rally against the murder of Brazilian councilwoman and activist Marielle Franco last March. The Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and outspoken critic of police brutality was shot in an assassination-style killing. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)