Brazil: Police must be regulated during protests

Brazil: Police must be regulated during protests - Civic Space

With the start of the World Cup only a week away, ARTICLE 19 has called on the host country, Brazil, to introduce new legislation regarding the use of police force during the demonstrations which are expected to take place throughout the tournament.

This comes after Brazil saw widespread protests last year, many of them related to the country’s preparation for its hosting of the World Cup and the Olympics.

Paula Martins, ARTICLE 19 Director for South America said:

“We have heard frequent reports of police responding with excessive force during the protests, including using rubber bullets and tear gas.  

“It seems that despite being a democracy, Brazil is still very much in dictatorship mindset when it comes to policing.

“Furthermore, the General World Cup Law, approved in 2012, already prohibits demonstrations that do not contribute to a ‘festive and friendly’ event, meaning that some protests, depending on their nature, could be considered illegal. 

“The right to protest and freedom of expression is protected under international law. The Brazilian government must recognize this, and act accordingly to ensure that any future protests are allowed to proceed safely.”

ARTICLE 19 have published a report, Brazil’s own goal: Protests, Police and the World Cup, which highlights a number of common concerns about the police and the authorities, including:

  • Police officers lacking identification during protests
  • Arbitrary arrests and detention, including detention for questioning, practically unheard of since the end of the military dictatorship
  • Criminalisation of free expression, treating protesters as offenders
  • Pre-censorship, including banning protesters from wearing masks or carrying vinegar (to use in the case of tear gas)
  • Disproportionality of police action
  • Use of lethal weapons and the abuse of less lethal weapons
  • Use of undercover police “agent provocateurs” in demonstrations, sometimes causing and encouraging unrest and violence
  • Police, ABIN (intelligence agency) and army monitoring of social media, police recording protests and preventing protesters from monitoring police actions
  • Concern for property rather than the safety of protesters
  • Threats and kidnapping
  • The creation of an express special court in São Paulo state specifically for cases related to demonstrations, which violates the individual guarantees that are in the Constitution

According to the report, there were over 600 separate demonstrations last year, and 15 of these involved over 50,000 people. There were 837 reported injuries, 2608 detentions, and eight deaths.

ARTICLE 19 is calling on the Brazilian government to ensure the right to protest and freedom of expression is protected, by introducing a new law to regulate the use of police force during demonstrations,which should follow international standards.  This new law should also determine that police must be sent to protests to ensure people are allowed to exercise their right to protest in a safe manner, and that the mindset must be one of negotiation rather than that of repression as it currently stands.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned about the possibility of the introduction of new laws after the June protests. These include increasing the penalty for crimes related to damage to property and bodily injury when these occur in demonstrations, criminalisation of the use of masks in protests and the closure of public roads.