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Brazilian Police: Censors and Censored

In the protests on Independence Day in Brasilia, a Reuters photojournalist states he has been attacked by a police dog and several other members of the press were also injured. Photo Osvaldo Ribeiro Filho copyright Demotix (07/09/2013)

In the protests on Independence Day in Brasilia, a Reuters photojournalist states he has been attacked by a police dog. Photo by Osvaldo Ribeiro Filho. Copyright Demotix (07/09/2013)

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

The atmosphere of protests that has flooded Brazil since June has exposed cases in which protesters and journalists acting peacefully have ended up being the target of disproportionate police action.

In the protests that happened on Independence Day, 7 September 2013, 18 cases of aggression [en] by security agents against members of the media were registered, as reported by the blog Journalism in the Americas of the Knight Center of the University of Texas – 85 percent of a total of 21 attacks against these professionals registered that day.

Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil, was the city with the most interventions against members of the press, 12 in total, including reporters from Correio Braziliense (Brazilian Mail) that photographed targets to disproportionate police action and were photographed becoming the targets themselves.

The most media-centered case dealing with attacks against the press was the complaint of a Reuters reporter, Ueslei Marcelino, injured during the coverage of police action near the National Stadium of Brasilia. The profile @roteirodecinema published on Twitter:

Reuters photographer confirmed on Instagram that the capital's military police used dogs to attack the press in yesterday's protest.

These aggressive actions have become a restriction against the right to protest or an attack on the right to free press, two concepts that are highly valued in every democracy.

According to a survey by the Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism), or Abraji, in the month of June when the biggest protests emerged, at least 52 journalists were victims of aggression in the country during the coverage of the demonstrations. A complete spreadsheet (.xlsx) from Abraji reports all the members of the press attacked by security agents and protestors in June 2013.

The first famous case of a journalist victim of disproportionate police action was that of Folha de São Paulo reporter Giuliana Vellone, shot in the eye by a rubber bullet during the Sao Paulo protest on June 13 (reported on by Global Voices). The Facebook post in which she explains what happened has been shared almost 12,000 times. Stories of cases where members of the press – agents or not of traditional media vehicles- were victims of police aggression in São Paulo, Rio, Brasilia, and in other cities show, according to the blog [en] Journalism in the Americas, “a recurrence of security forces as authors of violence against journalists.”

A photojournalist was arrested for being suspected of throwing a beer can at a police car during the Independance Day celebrations, on Avenida Presidente Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. Photo Marcio Isensee e Sá copyright Demotix (07/09/2013)

A photojournalist was arrested for being suspected of throwing a beer can at a police car during the Independence Day celebrations on Avenida Presidente Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Marcio Isensee e Sá. Copyright Demotix (07/09/2013)

Police –  perpetrators and victims? 

Its complexity is evident when observed in the professional context to which Brazilian police officers are subject. On the one hand, the actions of the police and their relationship with citizens and the press itself, permit the identification of non-democratic actions. On the other hand, it is not possible to say that there is an atmosphere of democratic safety for these men and women working in the streets, when relating to those that carry signs demanding the improvement of that same democracy.

As Global Voices reported [en] in July, the recent protests, apart from revealing excessive practices performed by the police, also showed that inside the organization there are some officers questioning the current format of their institutions.

In August, a lieutenant of the Rio Grande do Norte Military Police (PMRN), after defending the demilitarization of the Brazilian police on Facebook, ended up suffering administrative action by a colonel that asked the chief of police to take appropriate measures against the lieutenant that, for him,

não conseguiu assimilar e aprender a real e verdadeira razão de ser policial militar e da importância transcendental e imensurável da Polícia Militar do Rio Grande do Norte.

did not manage to assimilate and learn the real and true reason to be a military policeman and of the transcendental and immeasurable importance of the Rio Grande do Norte Military Police.

Attitudes of this kind are legally justified by norms such as the Brazilian Military Penal Code, a 1969 law that establishes, for example:

Art. 166. Publicar o militar ou assemelhado, sem licença, ato ou documento oficial, ou criticar públicamente ato de seu superior ou assunto atinente à disciplina militar, ou a qualquer resolução do Govêrno:

Pena – detenção, de dois meses a um ano, se o fato não constitui crime mais grave.

Art. 166. To publish about the military or the like, without permission, in an act or official document, or to criticize publicly an act of one's superior or a subject relevant to military discipline, or any resolution of the government:

Penalty: detention, from two months to a year, if the offense does not constitute a more serious crime.

In 2008, research by UNESCO coordinated by Silvoa Ramos and Anabela Paiva titled Do Tiro ao Twitter (From Gunshot to Twitter) (.pdf) pointed out that police officers themselves used social media to “cheat” the wall of oppression, and as such amplify “the voice of those who cannot speak” – “a form of exposing the reality of the barracks.”

For expressing opinions on the Internet, even senior officials suffer retaliation, as shown by the comment of Major Alexandre of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police on Twitter [private tweets quoted with permission]:

Sofri diversas punições por expressar minha liberdade de expressão – que deveria ser um direito constitucional – por aqui.

I have suffered various punishments for exercising my freedom of expression – that should be a constitutional right – on here.

O Ten Cel @Wanderby, ícone de honestidade da PMERJ, ficou meses alocado em lugares de 3º ou 4º nível. Eu fui movimentado 10 vezes em 1 ano.

O Ten Cel @Wanderby, icon of honesty of the PMERJ, remained for months in places of 3rd or 4th rank. I was moved 10 times in 1 year.

There is no lack of criticism of the organizational context of the police by its very own police officers on social media.

For some, these characteristics are directly linked to the nature of the military company, as military policeman Ronaldo Vasconcelos Monteiro commented on Facebook:

A militarização só interessa aos oficias e aos governantes pois só assim conseguem se perpetuar no poder como Deuses praticamente tendo os praças amordaçados de mãos atadas o tempo todo. Resquício de ditadura militar mesmo. Não passa de uma instituição arcaica e sucateada que já deveria ter sido extinta a muito tempo. Prova disso é a PF [Polícia Federal] e PRF [Polícia Rodoviária Federal] que não são militarizada e funcionam tão bem quanto, senão melhor do que essa corporação militar da idade do bronze.

Militarization interests the officials and the governments as the only way they can manage to perpetuate their power as gods, keeping the public spaces muzzled and hands tied practically the whole time. A remainder of the military dictatorship, an archaic institution that already should have been extinct a long time ago. Proof of this is the PF [Federal Police] and PRF [Federal Highway Police] that aren't militarized and work just as well, or better than the military company of the Bronze Age.

A relevant investigation would be to relate these two contexts: one in which the police flagrantly commit authoritarianism and impede the right to free protest of people in the streets, and the other in which the police themselves are victims of the oppression on the part of their legally established institution.

  • João Eduardo Madureira

    It is also confirmed that Reuters has censored my comments on their web site, because I was a way too critical towards the censorship from the Brazilian government against the protestors.

    Nevertheless I also condemn the atrocities committed by the police against the Reuters photographer.

    The main issue regarding to the protests is that Rede Globo, the Brazilian leading television station, is backing the police who have been acting disproportionately. Rede Globo receives billions of dollars from the Brazilian government to make positive propaganda — the money is masquerade in form of adverting tough.

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