The countdown to the 2014 World Cup has been marked by a series of demonstrations across Brazil, with hundreds of thousands of Brazilians protesting against government corruption, unaccountable decision-making and the vast expenditure used to host the games, money which they believe would be better spent on public services.
Research published in Brazil’s Own Goal shows that the state’s response to these demonstrations has been one of increasing repression and violence, more suited to Brazil’s years of military dictatorship. Police are using excessive force against demonstrators, including highly indiscriminate use of potentially lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas. A large number of police officers have been spotted removing their identification during the protests and refusing to identify themselves when asked so as to ensure their actions cannot be traced back to them. There have been thousands of arbitrary arrests and the practices of preventative detention and prior restraint are rife.
To compound the crackdown on freedom of expression, several bills have been proposed in congress to criminalise demonstrations, including increasing the penalty for crimes related to damage to property and persons when these happen in demonstrations, the criminalisation of the use of masks in protests and the closure of public roads.
Furthermore, the General World Cup Law, which was approved in 2012, already prohibits demonstrations that do not contribute to a so-called ‘festive and friendly’ event, meaning that some protests could be considered illegal if held anywhere near a stadium, which of course are mainly in highly populated urban areas.
The right to protest and freedom of expression is protected under international law, and yet Brazil’s Own Goal shows that these rights are being stripped away in the country. ARTICLE 19 is calling on the Brazilian government to ensure the right to protest and freedom of expression are protected, by introducing a new law to regulate the use of police force during demonstrations, which should follow five principles, according to UN standards: legality, necessity, proportionality, moderation and convenience.
This law should also ensure policing at protests is designed to safeguard the people’s right to protest in a safe manner.