On the eve of the final World Cup match in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro police “preemptively” arrested dozens of activists opposed to hosting the tournament because authorities suspected they would engage in violent acts during a demonstration scheduled during the final. Charges of forming an armed gang were filed against 23 of them, prompting three to unsuccessfully ask for political asylum from Uruguay.
The accused only gained access to the 8,000-page complaint on July 24 days after their arrest, and to their surprise, the case against them is one seemingly based on betrayal, jealousy and revenge.
The complaint includes statements from three witnesses who had personal disputes with some of the activists. Initially, the press reported that the entire complaint was based solely on the testimony of Felipe Braz, a former member of the far-left-wing organization Independent People's Front (FIP). Independent journalist Collective Mariachi described Braz:
Chegou a agredir fisicamente uma companheira no Ocupa Cabral, de onde foi expulso pelos ativistas e motivo pelo qual foi “escrachado” pelas feministas, começando assim um histórico de desavenças com os manifestantes
[Braz] even physically assaulted a comrade at Occupy Cabral, from which he was expelled by activists and why he was named and shamed by feminists, thus beginning a history of disagreements with the protesters
On the same day that the complaint became public, Braz gave an interview to the newspaper O Dia from Rio de Janeiro, boasting about having given testimony against activist Elisa Quadros, known as Sininho (Tinkerbell). His cynicism dismayed many activists. On Facebook, activist and professor Henrique Antoun commented:
Polícia, promotor, juiz, Globo e quase toda a impren$a massacram 23 pessoas com base no depoimento de um canalha inclassificável, capaz de dizer as coisas mais escabrosas e rir sadicamente do sofrimento e da humilhação alheias.
Police, prosecutor, judge, Globo and almost the entire pre$$ massacre 23 people based on the testimony of a unclassifiable scoundrel, able to tell the most scabrous things and laugh sadistically at the suffering and humiliation of others.
The second witness is Anne Marie Josephine Louise Rosencrantz, who told police that Sininho wanted to burn down the Rio de Janeiro city council. Rosencrantz is the ex-girlfriend of activist Game Over, and she accuses Sininho of “stealing” him from her. In posts on her Google Plus account seven months ago, Rosencrantz insults Sininho, calling her manipulative. Game Over was one of those arrested the day before the World Cup final.
The third person whose statements appear in the complaint is Cleyton “Joker” Silbernagel, a candidate for state representative for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) who declared his love for Sininho in videos posted on YouTube and said that he regretted informing on her to police. The Collective Mariachi described him as a young man with “mental problems, [who] has over 10 fake Facebook profiles” and who poses for photos alongside controversial political figures. Cleyton “calls himself ‘a former Black Bloc’ and one of his promises in his bid for State Representative (this is true) in the upcoming elections is to institute the ‘Day of the Black Bloc’ holiday,” according to the collective.
Black Bloc is a protest tactic of wearing black clothing and covering the face with a mask or bandanna that has been used at demonstrations since 2013. Some protesters dressed this way have vandalized property or committed arson.
The 23 activists charged with forming an armed gang deny planning any violence.
Sininho has accused them of “disgusting manipulation” and trying to frame the activists. Lawyer Eloisa Samy, one of activists who sought asylum at the Consulate of Uruguay, said the complaint was based on “pathetic” accusations.
Authorities, who said they had been investigating the activists since September 2013, also wiretapped phone calls of lawyers and the Institute of Human Rights Defenders during their investigation.
In light of the complaint, some have criticised the arrests as attempts to persecute social movements with the support of various mainstream media outlets. Several activists and even groups of lawyers have accused the coverage of the country's biggest media outlet, Rede Globo, of manipulation, censorship and lies.
Collective Rio na Rua denounced on Facebook that at least 73 organized groups, social movements and collectives were nominally cited by the police investigation and are listed in the case against the 23 activists as “susceptible to extremist ideas and political manipulations that are co-opted and exploited to act as pressure forces transiting the realm of deliberate violence.”
Historian and journalist Marco Morel wrote:
O que o episódio traz de novidade na conjuntura não é a repressão de caráter social contra os de baixo na hierarquia social, que é traço estrutural na sociedade brasileira (ver o cotidiano das favelas), mas a tentativa de se punir e refrear as liberdades de expressão e manifestação, orquestrada por governos que se afirmam democráticos e, aparentemente, adeptos das regras do liberalismo formal. Mas quando a ordem é ameaçada ou somente incomodada…
What the episode brings as a novelty in the conjuncture is not the repression against those of the lowest social hierarchy, which is a structural feature in Brazilian society (see the daily life of the slums), but the attempt to punish and curb the freedoms of expression and protest, orchestrated by governments that claim to be democratic and, apparently, supporters of the rules of formal liberalism. But when the order is threatened or just disturbed …
Academic and activist Bruno Cava commented:
O noticiário hoje sobre o inquérito do ativismo carioca lembra aqueles tabloides expostos nas bancas de jornais em que os episódios da novela são relatados como notícias reais. O objetivo é levantar uma cortina de fumaça, fazendo-nos discutir heróis, vilões, golpes sórdidos, facadas nas costas e triângulos amorosos.
The news today about the case against Rio activism recalls those tabloids displayed on newsstands in which soap opera episodes are reported as actual news. The goal is to raise a smokescreen, making us discuss heroes, villains, nasty blows, stabs in the back and love triangles.
The judge responsible for freeing the 23 arrested, Siro Darlan, criticised on his Facebook profile the “culture of imprisonment that led Brazil to the third place in number of incarcerations in the world” and the media:
No caso concreto a denúncia do Ministério Público, embora as mídias interessadas em enganar seus leitores, tenham noticiado incêndios, lesões corporais, danos ao patrimônio público, porte de explosivos, dentre outros, é exclusivamente o delito de quadrilha armada – artigo 288, parágrafo único do Código Penal, cuja pena pode variar entre um e três anos de reclusão, podendo ser dobrada.
Ora, ainda que os acusados venham a ser condenados, na pior das hipóteses a pena não ultrapassará dois anos por serem réus primários e de bons antecedentes. Sabe-se que pela nossa legislação a condenação até quatro anos pode e deve ser substituída por penas alternativas em liberdade.
Assim sendo o que justifica manter presas pessoas que ainda que condenados, permanecerão em liberdade?
The complaint of the prosecution, although the media interested in deceiving their readers have reported fires, personal injury, damage to public property, possession of explosives, among others, contains only the offense of forming an armed gang – article 288, sole paragraph of the Penal Code, the penalty for which can vary between one and three years of imprisonment, and may be double.
Now, even though the accused may be convicted, at worst the sentence will not exceed two years for being primary defendants and having good backgrounds. It is known that by our law sentencing up to four years may be replaced by alternative sentences in freedom.
So what justifies keeping prisoners that even if convicted, will remain free?
For professor Idelber Avelar, the legal process was driven by prejudice and attempts to criminalise activists and protests:
Depois de passar alguns dias lendo matérias, “denúncias”, depoimentos e documentos relacionados às prisões arbitrárias de manifestantes no Rio de Janeiro, eu não tenho mais dúvidas: no coração do processo de criminalização dos protestos políticos, estão o machismo, a homofobia e uma profunda, visceral, violenta misoginia.
After spending a few days reading material, “complaints”, testimonies and documents related to the arbitrary arrests of protesters in Rio de Janeiro, I have no doubts: in the heart of the criminalisation of political protest proceedings is sexism, homophobia and deep, visceral, violent misogyny.
Activist Marcelo Castañeda called for a boycott of “all media outlets that had any role of judge in this novelistic plot established by the authorities against the right to protest in Rio de Janeiro.” Pablo Ortellado, a leading figure within many social movements in Brazil, summarized the complaint:
Vinte e três pessoas presas com base em fofocas, conversas entre adolescentes e textos de sites de extrema direita.
Twenty-three people arrested based on gossip, conversations between teens and texts of far-right websites.