Congress passes anti-terrorism bill

Lawmakers kept the text approved by the Lower House in August; legislation could criminalize protests

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A full session of the Lower House of Congress rejected on Wednesday, February 24, the Senate’s amendment to Bill 2016/15, submitted by the Executive Branch, that defines the crime of terrorism in Brazil. Lawmakers accepted the opposing case made by the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Arthur Maia, and voted to keep the original text approved by the Lower House in August, which will now be forwarded to President Dilma Rousseff to be signed into law.
Click here to see the differences between the texts presented by the federal government, by the Lower House and by the Senate.
Human rights organizations claim the law represents a serious setback for democracy because, under the justification of protecting the country, it criminalizes social movements, organizations and activists that stand up for people’s rights. According to these organizations, the broad definition of terrorism and the extremely severe sentences for offenses already covered by the Criminal Code are the most controversial points.
Rafael Custódio, coordinator of the Justice program at Conectas, said that “ahead of hosting the Olympic Games, the government gave into international pressure from GAFI [Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing] and approved a fast-tracked bill without any discussion with society, and which will become another instrument to criminalize protest movements”.
“Once again, terrorism has served as an excuse to restrict the democratic right of protest and individual freedoms. No country in the world has become safer by toughening its laws against terrorism. The legacy of the Olympics for Brazil will be the weakening of democracy,” he added.
Widespread condemnation
The plans to define the crime of terrorism in Brazil have been harshly condemned by international bodies, social movements and human rights organizations. In November, four UN special rapporteurs said in a joint statement that “the definition of the crime established by the draft law may result in ambiguities and confusion as to what the State considers a terrorist offence, potentially undermining the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
Similarly, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), Edison Lanza, stated that “there is abundant jurisprudence and numerous cases in Latin America to demonstrate that anti-terrorism laws written in vague and ambiguous terms often serve to criminalize groups that are strong voices, dissidents, but not necessarily terrorist groups”.
In a statement of condemnation, organizations such as Conectas Human Rights, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, CUT (Brazil’s leading trade union), MTST (Homeless Workers Movement) and MST (Landless Rural Workers Movement) asserted that “the law on criminal organizations – and all its methods such as plea bargaining and infiltration – already apply to international terrorist organizations whose acts of support, preparation and execution occur or could occur in Brazilian territory”.
Academics, families of victims of the military dictatorship and personalities in the struggle for human rights in Brazil also sent an open letter to President Dilma Rousseff requesting the removal of the bill. Among the signatories of the document are the psychoanalyst Maria Rita Kehl, who served on Brazil’s National Truth Commission, and the activist Maria Amélia Teles, director of the São Paulo Women’s Union.