Brazil: Civil rights at risk

Brazil: Civil rights at risk - Civic Space

On 24 February, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved Bill 2016/2015 in the second round of voting, legislating the crime of “terrorism” for the first time. Originally introduced by the Federal Government, the bill was approved by the Chamber of Deputies last year, then was subsequently amended by the Senate. When it returned to the Chamber it was passed again, but as the original version drafted by the deputies. The Bill will now be submitted for presidential approval.

In at least two statements (available in Portuguese here and here), several social movements and organisations – including ARTICLE 19 – have expressed their opposition to the bill, due to the risks that it poses to civil rights, especially freedom of expression and assembly.

Under the proposed new law, the crime of terrorism would include “preparatory acts”, “apologising for terrorism”, “terrorism against property or services” and even the occupying of public buildings as part of a protest. These vague, broad concepts could allow for biased legal interpretations and could be used by the State to counter (or supress) social movements.

One of the main arguments against the enactment of the new law is that all of the offences it describes are already criminalised by existing legislation, which already punishes actions such as damage, arson, use of explosives, criminal association, bodily injury and murder.

Despite the fact that in the final version the term “political extremism” was removed from the list of activities that would constitute the crime of terrorism, and despite the inclusion of the caveat that social movements, trade unions, political demonstrations and other forms of assembly would not be subject to the terms of the law, the risk of those types of groups being classed as “terrorist organisations” remains.

This is because the judiciary has the power to classify a given organization according to its own criteria, leaving worrying scope for loose and erroneous interpretations. It should be emphasised that the Brazilian judiciary has always been a somewhat conservative institution, and has a well-established history of applying inappropriate provisions in order to criminalise social movements.

Further supplementing these arguments is the fact that we are currently seeing the overwhelming criminalisation of protests and social movements throughout the country. This context gives rise to even more concerns regarding the possibility of the law being exploited to suppress rights.

For these reasons, ARTICLE 19 is joining the multitude of social movements and civil society organisations speaking out against Bill 2016/2015 and reaffirming its commitment to continue to work tirelessly to defend the rights of freedom of expression and assembly.