Guaranteeing the Right to Demonstrate
The State should assume its responsibilities and not transfer them to protest movements
Last Thursday, June 19, after the conclusion of a demonstration organized by the Free Fare Movement to celebrate one year since the protests that halted a planned increase in public transport fares in São Paulo, a group of people destroyed bank branches and other commercial establishments in the city. According to media reports, the public authorities reacted by declaring that security at the demonstration was the responsibility of the organizers, which would be “held accountable” for the damage.
The fact that the police negotiated the route of the protest with the organizers does not in any way mean that the public security forces can relinquish their responsibility for guaranteeing the rights of the demonstrators and the rest of the population. “It is the role of the State to guarantee the security of the citizens who demonstrate on the streets and, at the same time, to identify and individually take action against any people who commit crimes, guaranteeing for everyone the rights recognized by law,” said Marcos Fuchs, associate director of Conectas.
Meanwhile, the apparent failure of the Military Police to prevent or suppress the property destruction on June 19 does not justify holding the organizers of the protest accountable for the damage, since this would represent yet another step in the perverse policy of criminalizing the right to protest. Confirming this trend, the Civil Police announced the day after the protest that 22 members of the Free Fare Movement would be summoned for questioning at the State Department of Criminal Investigation (DEIC) in Police Inquiry No. 01/2013.
Who gave the order?
Since June last year, Conectas has been questioning the lack of clarity over the chain of command during Military Police operations at demonstrations, the objectives of these operations and the formalization of the orders that authorize them. The contradictions between the command of the operation and the Public Security Secretary after last Thursday’s demonstration appear to confirm the lack of clarity over the procedures.
Last year, we questioned who gave the order for the repression in June 2013, what the procedures were for police action and whether they exist formally in any document. In response to our questions, the Military Police and the Public Security Secretary claimed that these rules are established in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that are confidential, preventing any serious public debate on the matter. “Events like those of last Thursday demonstrate why this debate is necessary and why it needs to take place in the public sphere,” said Juana Kweitel, program director at Conectas.