THE BLOG

Will Protesting Become Illegal In Brazil?

It was a tragic event. On February 6th, while covering a protest against a recent bus fare rise outside the Central do Brasil railway station in Rio de Janeiro, TV cameraman, Santiago Andrade was hit when a protester's flare exploded next to his head. He died days later, sparking indignation from the media, who claimed for severe punishment for the protester, and severe measures against violent protests. A major newspaper even claimed that the internet-born criticism of the corporate media was responsible for hostility towards professionals journalists, and therefore for Santiago's death.

As usual, politicians reacted promptly. Last week, the Congress tried to speed up the vote of a law that criminalizes acts of terrorism and establishes the punishments for those involved.

The law is a key issue for the US agenda, as the WikiLeaks cables revealed, and is seen as a way to grant some protection for foreign delegations in the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The bill considers terrorism to be any act that causes terror or panic in society and would be punishable without bail by 15 to 30 years in prison.

The Bill faces major resistance from progressive sectors in Brazil as it would, for the first time after the dictatorship, establish terrorism as a crime in a country where many of the current politicians, including the president herself, were accused of being terrorists by the dictatorship before being arrested and tortured.

At the same time, Rio de Janeiro's state public security secretary José Mariano Beltrame, went to Congress last week to push for a law against "association to commit disorder" nabbing the use of masks during protests -- the idea is to ban the adepts of the 'Black Block' tactic, who systematically destroy property belonging to banks and governments.

Now the federal government is also working on its own new law. While a bit less restrictive, the draft is expected to meddle with some basic rights of protesters against the World Cup. For instance, protests that were not previously scheduled with authorities would be considered illegal, and those wearing masks could be detained until the end of the protest, or charged with "disobedience". The law would also increase the punishment for aggression, murder and the destruction of public property if committed during protests.

In an era of massive protests worldwide, trying to halt protesters by clumping down on them -- or using anti-terrorism laws against them -- has all too often backfired. The streets of Ukraine are there to prove it. However, it seems that Brazilian governors are yet to get the message.