Right to protest under threat as Brazil pushes 'terrorism' law ahead of World Cup

One month ahead of the start of the World Cup, Amnesty International has warned of a crackdown on freedom of expression as Brazil moves to pass a ‘terrorism’ law that could criminalise peaceful protest before the tournament starts there in June.

The new law, which is due to be voted on in the Brazilian Senate any day now, would see the creation of the crime of ‘disorder’ in order to control protests.

The proposal only offers a vague definition of ‘disorder’ and contains articles that could lead to the criminalisation of any citizen attending a public demonstration, even if they are not doing anything illegal. It also prohibits the use of masks during or immediately after the public demonstrations, protests or assemblies.

The legislation would also create the crime of ‘terrorism’ - Amnesty is concerned that the way terrorism is defined is again overly vague and therefore may be used to unlawfully restrict human rights.

The proposed legislation appears to be a reaction to widespread protests in Brazil during the Confederations Cup last year, many more of which are expected as the World Cup gets closer.  Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to vent their anger about World Cup spending, an increase in public transport fares and the lack of investment in public services.

The police reaction to these protests was, in many cases, violent – officers used tear gas, fired rubber bullets, and beat people with hand held batons. Hundreds were injured and/or detained, including a photographer who lost his eye after being hit with a rubber bullet and a student who was assaulted by two police officers resulting in several broken bones and four lost teeth.

Of those detained there has been only one conviction. Rafael Braga Vieira, a young black homeless man who shines shoes and does odd cleaning jobs for a living, was sentenced in December for carrying cleaning products during a protest in June that the police said were for use in making explosives. Despite a forensic report stating that the products could not be used for this purpose, he was handed a five year prison sentence.

More recently, the killings in Rio’s Pavao-Pavaozinho favela of Edilson dos Santos and Douglas Rafael Pereira, and a death threat against Douglas’ mother Maria de Fatima, show that the situation has if anything got worse as the World Cup nears. Their cases are outlined below.

Atila Roque, director of Amnesty Brazil, said:

“Protesting is not a crime, it is a human right. Instead of using violence to crush protesters, the government and the security forces have the responsibility of ensuring people are safe. Any abuses must be promptly investigated, with those responsible brought to justice.

“The Brazilian government must ensure the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of everyone during the World Cup, that security forces are adequately trained and that the use of tear gas and rubber bullets is properly regulated.

“Peaceful protests should never be seen as a threat. Instead, the authorities should engage in a constructive dialogue with those participating in demonstrations and never criminalise them.”

In early June Amnesty will publish a full briefing on human rights in Brazil linked to the World Cup, with a focus on police violence.

Cases

Edilson Silva dos Santos (m), Douglas Rafael Pereira da Silva (m), Maria de Fátima (f)

On 22 April, 27-year-old Edilson Silva dos Santos was shot in the head and died during a protest in the Pavão-Pavãozinho community in Copacabana. It has not been established who fired the shot. Edilson and other residents from the community were unarmed in the protest. The military police officers policing the protest were carrying firearms. The protest was a spontaneous reaction by residents to the death of Douglas Rafael Pereira da Silva, aged 26, who was found dead in the backyard of a children’s daycare centre earlier that day. Initial investigations indicate that he died around 1am on 22 April during a police operation in the community. Local residents alleged that he was killed by the police.

Later in the day on 22 April, the military police from the local Pacification Police Unit (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, UPP) surrounded the daycare centre where Douglas Rafael Pereira da Silva’s body was found, and there are strong indications that the crime scene might have been changed. The medical forensic assessment concluded that he died after being shot by a firearm which resulted in the perforation of his lung.

Since Douglas’ death, his mother, Maria de Fátima, has made public calls for justice. She told Amnesty that on 28 April she was threatened by a man driving a car and carrying a firearm. She stated that he told her “if you don’t shut up, I will do that” (se você não calar a boca, eu vou calar).

Amnesty International has received reports of the use of unnecessary and excessive force and other abuses by police officers from the UPP against residents of this area. For example, only a couple of days earlier, a 27-year-old man coming back from a family gathering was reportedly approached by two police officers from the UPP, who then shot twice at a wall next to his head and fired three more shots into the air as a form of intimidation.

Other cases of police violence against Confederations Cup protestors

  • On 13 June 2013 in São Paulo, a photographer] who was hit with a rubber / plastic bullet while working covering protests and lost his eye.
  • On 17 and 20 June 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, police used tear gas against protesters in closed spaces, including hospitals, subway stations and restaurants.
  • On 20 June 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, at least four people were injured by the use of firearms (that is, lethal weapons) during a protest.
  • On 21 June 2013 in Belem (Pará state) a 51-year-old municipal street cleaner, died after police allegedly sprayed tear gas inside a place where she and other people were sheltering during a protest the day before.
  • On 15 October 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, police used unnecessary force against teachers protesting peacefully, and detained around 200 people.
  • On 2 January 2014 in São Paulo, several protesters were sheltering in a hotel lounge when the police entered the place, launched tear gas and fired plastic / rubber bullets at them. Police also hit some of them there with hand-held batons. Vinicius Duarte, a 27 years old student was brutally assaulted by two police officers, had several bones broken and lost four teeth. 
  • On 22 February 2014 in São Paulo, police surrounded peaceful protesters using a technique known as “Hamburger Kessel” or “kettling”, taking dozens of them to police stations. It is unknown, at this point, how many of those are being further investigated and might face criminal charges and go to trial.

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