SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spent his first night in jail on a corruption conviction on Sunday as his allies hoped future protests and court decisions would free him.
The imprisonment of Lula, Brazil's first working-class president, throws the October presidential election wide open as he leads the race in opinion polls. His conviction likely bars him from running.
But this week the Supreme Court may re-examine its own 2016 ruling that said the condemned could begin serving prison sentences if their conviction was upheld on a first appeal, the decision that made it possible for a Brazilian judge to order Lula jailed. If that ruling were reversed, Lula would be freed.
Several justices on the top court have publicly clamoured in recent weeks to revisit that ruling and overturn it, a move critics say would be a massive blow against Brazil's unprecedented anti-corruption efforts of the last four years.
The appeals process can take years or even decades in Brazil's complex and backlogged legal system, essentially guaranteeing impunity for those rich enough to afford lawyers who could launch countless technical appeals.
Lula, who still faces six more trials on corruption charges, turned himself in to police Saturday evening, ending a daylong standoff.
Brazilians watched images televised nationwide of a convoy of police SUVs shepherding Lula to a helicopter and then a jet at a Sao Paulo airport, where he was flown to the southern city of Curitiba to begin serving his sentence.
He spent the first night of his 12-year sentence in a special 15-square-meter cell in Curitiba's federal police headquarters, where most high-profile politicians and businessmen convicted in the "Car Wash" corruption probe have served their sentences. Lula will not be allowed to interact with others being held in the building, including his former finance minister Antonio Palocci.
"His spirit is strong enough to hang on and he is certain that the Brazilian people will continue to mobilize for his freedom," said Paulo Teixeira, a Workers Party congressman representing Sao Paulo.
He said the Supreme Court's rejection of Lula's plea to remain free until he exhausted his appeals was "shameful" and that he thought protests would mount in support of the leader.
But by Sunday afternoon – and throughout the long period Lula has been under investigation – there have been no mass popular demonstrations in Brazil, with only sporadic and isolated protests by diehard supporters. A handful of people suffered minor injuries in a protest outside the federal police building upon his arrival.
Brazilians, whether they agree that Lula should be jailed or not, widely believe that those in power are corrupt. A survey last month from the Datafolha polling firm found that over 80 percent of those asked said they believed Lula knew about corruption in his government, though just over 50 percent said they wanted to see him jailed.
(Reporting by Tatiana Ramil; Additional reporting by Ricardo Brito in BRASILIA; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by James Dalgleish)