Anti-terrorism law

Organizations and social movements unite against bill that defines terrorism

Representatives from some of the leading movements in Brazil gathered today, January 21, during the Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre to join forces against the bill in the Lower House of Congress (Bill 101/2015) that defines the crime of terrorism.

According to Conectas, Intervozes (a communication rights organization), MST (Landless Rural Workers Movement), MTST (Homeless Workers Movement) and CUT (Brazil’s leading trade union), the bill poses a threat to democracy, to the right to demonstrate and to freedom of expression, and it also broadens the criminalization of human rights defenders and activists, particularly in the poor urban outskirts.

The bill was given fast-track status in June 2015, when it was submitted to Congress by the ministries of Finance and Justice. The first version was approved with minor alterations in the Lower House just two months later.

In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Aloysio Nunes, who presented an amendment with even harsher penalties and removed safeguards that could protect social movements and organizations. The text was approved by the Senate in late October and is now waiting to be voted in the Lower House.

Disastrous consequences


At the opening of the debate in Porto Alegre, the coordinator of the South-South program at Conectas, Ana Cernov, explained that the bill responds to a recommendation made by FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) – an organization that is not part of the United Nations system and whose decisions are not binding. As a result of pressure exerted by this organization, several countries have adopted more restrictive legislation to avoid financial reprisals.

“Brazil has seen at least 15 similar such bills, but a consensus was never reached on how to define terrorism. Not even the UN has managed to do this,” said Cernov. “The main problem with the law is its vagueness, which leaves a wide margin open for interpretation by the executors of the law, namely the police and judges.”

For Expedito Solaney, a representative of CUT, Brazil does not need this law, since, he said, “the only terrorism we’ve ever had was State terrorism, with the 1964 coup”, in reference to the torture, murders and disappearances perpetrated by agents of the military dictatorship. Solaney also criticized the fast-tracked approval process, which precluded any public debate on the bill. “It was an assault on all social movements, on all of us. Democracy was hijacked,” he said.

According to Claudia Fávaro, of the national coordination board of MTST, “it was a very big surprise for social movements” to see a bill like this come from President Dilma Rousseff, “who was herself considered a ‘terrorist’ from legal standpoint”. She said that social movements will now have to rethink their tools of political struggle because their traditional tactics will be criminalized.

Elaine Rissi, of the human rights division of MST, reached a similar conclusion: as far as she is concerned, the bill joins the list of other laws that to some extent limit the actions of social movements – such as the National Security Law, created during the dictatorship. “We are already criminalized, but we will be all the more so,” she said. “Like the Argentine jurist Eugenio Zaffaroni said, the bigger the Police State, the smaller the Rule of Law.”

This opinion was shared by Bia Barbosa of Intervozes, for whom the situation becomes more complex when we consider other bills that are pending in the Legislative – such as Bill 215/2015, also known as the “Spy Bill”, that permits information to be retained on internet users even without a warrant (click here to learn more).

Another decisive factor, explained Barbosa, is the dissemination through the mass media of the idea that terrorism is coming to Brazil. “There is a culture of fear being cultivated. These conditions are paving the way for the approval of a law like this with fast-track status because there will be no resistance from the population,” she said.

International condemnation

The attempt to define the crime of terrorism in Brazil has already been criticized by the UN. In a joint statement published in early November, four special rapporteurs said the bill has an overly broad definition of terrorism and could restrict fundamental freedoms.


“We fear 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,” they said.

Click here to read the statement in full.

The concern is shared by Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS. “The definition that is being created in Brazil uses complicated terms, such as political extremism, occupation of public buildings and condoning of terrorism. Because it is so expansive, it could capture legitimate speech that expresses strong opposition to a government or that is highly critical of the system, but that is protected by freedom of expression and freedom of association,” he said.


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