Brazil: Anti-Terrorism Bill threatens to restrict Right to Protest

Brazil: Anti-Terrorism Bill threatens to restrict Right to Protest - Civic Space

Judge Sueli Pini (45, right), founder of the Fluvial Court boat, discusses with police the finding of a body found floating in the river, in an area where murder has occurred before. The boat docks at this remote village in the Bailique Archipeligo of the Amazon river's estuary. On it are judges, lawyers, police, social workers, doctors, teachers and election officials who bring law into the Brazilian jungle. The boat visits small Amazonian communities once every two months and provides government services that have previously been denied them due to their isolation.

An Anti-Terrorism Bill is on the agenda for the Brazillian Senate [(PL) 101/2015 (originally PL 2016/2015)] which would threaten the Right to Protest. The Bill, initially prepared by the Executive with the support of the Ministries of Justice and Finance, passed through the House of Representatives in August, and provides penalties of 12 to 30 years for those who carry out acts defined as ‘acts of terrorism’.

Initially, the project defined terrorist acts as those motivated by “ideological reasons, politics, xenophobia, discrimination, or prejudice relating to race, color, ethnicity, religion or gender”, and which had intended to “cause terror, to expose to danger a person, public safety, or public peace, or to coerce authorities to do or not to do something. ”

After pressure from civil society, who pointed out that the Bill could serve to criminalise social movements and protests, the Bill passed to the House of Representatives. This House removed from the text all references to ideological reasons and political motivations, and instead inserted a paragraph which expressly excludes from the scope of the law “political demonstrations, social movements, trade unions, religious, class or professional associations, driven by social or collective protest purposes.”

The Bill, however, still presents substantial risks to the right to rotest, and to social movements. This is partly due to two amendments presented by Senator Humberto Costa which return the references to ideological and political motivations for ‘terrorist acts’ into the text of the Bill. This change would increase the scope of the definition of terrorism, and could encompass the action of social movements and demonstrators during protests.

Furthermore, Senator Aloysio Nunes Ferreira has presented an amendment which would be detrimental for a number of reasons: it includes the motivation of “political extremism” for a terrorist act; it increases the minimum sentences; it removes the exclusion of political demonstrations and social movements of the scope of law; it creates the crime of ‘apology for terrorism’; and it includes a broad and general terms the practice of recruiting and financing of terrorism.

In addition, the approved wording (which will be voted on tomorrow with amendments) provides for overbroad concepts such as “causing social or generalized terror” in characterising the crime of terrorism, giving rise to a risk that the law is arbitrarily applied in order to curb legitimate social protest.

Crucially, the Bill  does not actually create any new crime. All conduct which the law defines as terrorist acts is already punishable by the Criminal Code. This Bill has appeared within the content of intensified criminalization of social movements and protesters since June 2013; the concern of civil society is that this initiative seeks to further repress the protests across the country.

The Bill continues to pose a serious risk to the Right to Protest and to social movements, and it is essential that there is a more detailed and thorough debate before the Bill is voted upon in the Senate. It is imperative that this debate occurs in order to prevent the adoption of provisions which might endanger democratic freedoms.