World Cup continues, democracy backslides

Intimidation and illegality mark police action at protest in São Paulo Intimidation and illegality mark police action at protest in São Paulo

The action of the Military Police at a protest event staged yesterday, July 1, at Roosevelt square in São Paulo once again violated a long list of constitutional rights and freedoms. More than 300 demonstrators, who were seated and listening to a peaceful public debate on the arrest of the activists Fábio Hideki and Rafael Lusvarghi during a protest against the World Cup on June 26, were intimidated, arbitrarily arrested and assaulted with tear gas and rubber bullets.


“By the time the World Cup is over, Brazil will have been dealt a very serious setback in terms of fundamental freedoms,” said Lucia Nader, executive director of Conectas. “What we saw yesterday in Roosevelt square were troops that were unprepared to deal with fundamental freedoms, but that were also heavily armed and intent on repression.”




Even before the event, which was widely publicized on the social networks, all the entrances to the square were blocked off by regular Military Police troops and the riot police, and officers also took it upon themselves to film the demonstrators. The mounted guard and the ‘Rocam’ motorcycle unit completed the police cordon around the square, repeating the procedure used in previous demonstrations (such as those staged on 7/12/14 and 6/13/13)


Staff from Conectas witnessed people being searched as they approached the site of the debate. Many of them were required to show identification, even though for no apparent reason, to get through the police barricade.


This type of enclosure, which limits and violates the freedoms of expression, movement and assembly, has already been condemned by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association and by the European Court of Human Rights.


Sequence de violations


The police officers displayed all the force of their new repressive gear. They were wearing new body armor known as ‘robocop’ uniforms, which show no identification. According to national and international standards, the uniforms of security forces must always display clear and individual identification.


When questioning the violation of this rule, the lawyers Daniel Biral and Silvia Daskal, from the group Advogados Ativistas (Activist Lawyers), were violently arrested and charged with contempt.


Click here to watch the video that documents the moment of the arrest.


Another four demonstrators were also detained during the event, revealing that the Military Police in São Paulo continue to make use of ‘arrests for verification’ – an unconstitutional power that was denounced extensively by social movements throughout 2013.


At one point during the evening, a group of demonstrators rallied together to prevent the arrest of a street vendor. In what has become a routine response, the riot police dispersed the group with tear gas and rubber bullets, going so far as to use pepper spray on journalists who were recording the scene – which violates the principles of proportionality and strict necessity.


Click here to watch the moment when the riot police dispersed the demonstrators.


State of Emergency


According to Conectas, the São Paulo Military Police demonstrated yet again its propensity to disregard constitutional guarantees and create and environment reminiscent of a state of emergency. These developments appear even more serious when considering the heavy investment in the police ahead of the World Cup to expand its repressive capacity, with new technologies, weapons and munitions.


“The violations were already extremely serious before the World Cup, but every day we are shocked by a police force that knows no limits,” said Lucia Nader.


What the law says


The police action witnessed by Conectas expressly violates fundamental rights and guarantees protected by the Federal Constitution of 1988. The right to freedom of expression and the right to assembly in public places, without requiring authorization, are recognized in article 5, which also forbids any curtailment of the freedom to come and go.


There is no provision in Brazilian law that permits “arrest for verification”. The Constitution, meanwhile, is emphatic in guaranteeing individual freedoms and it prevents any law from limiting these freedoms.


Article 5 also explicitly establishes that all detained people have the right to know the identity of those responsible for their arrest – another point violated by the Military Police at yesterday’s protest, clearly evident in this video that shows the detention of the lawyers.


The Military Police’s own Disciplinary Regulations, it is worth pointing out, classifies the absence of identification on police uniforms as a transgression.

International standards


The freedoms of assembly and expression are described in articles 10 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also in articles 13 and 15 of the American Convention on Human Rights.


According to the Universal Declaration, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.


The systematic violation of these rights by the São Paulo police demonstrates a blatant disregard for the commitments assumed by Brazil.


There are other international standards that regulate the role of the police at protests, such as the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the UN in 1979, and the reports on Citizen Security and Human Rights (2009) and the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas (2012), both by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


They all prohibit the use of lethal weapons, reinforce the principles of proportionality and strict necessity, and require the clear identification of each individual police officer – another rule ignored by the São Paulo authorities, in spite of repeated complaints. It is important to point out that these rules must be observed regardless of the type or the size of the unrest. 


Neither is there any legal backing for the barricade set up by the police for the duration of yesterday’s event. According to the UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, these tactics similar to “kettling” are “very rarely justifiable”. According to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, “measures of crowd control should not be used by the national authorities directly or indirectly to stifle or discourage protest”. The court determined that police containment of a peaceful group violates the freedom of assembly.

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