‘Foul Play’ at World Cup: harassment and harm to 14 journalists during final

Final reports are in: 14 journalists were harassed or harmed by police during the coverage of protests outside the World Cup final match

During the closing ceremony, a half empty Maracanã awaited for Argentine and German fans. But it is outside the stadium tensions were building up. One kilometre away, at Saens Peña square in Tijuca, one thousand protestors gathered to vindicate the immediate release of dozens arrested the night before. Around the stadium, 26 thousand soldiers and police officers integrated the country’s largest security operation ever.

Brazil has multiple police forces: Civil, Federal and Military. The first deals with investigation and arrest of accused for criminal felonies. The second, prevent and suppress the trafficking of drugs and contraband, immigration and fraud investigation. The third body is responsible for a broader concept: prevention. It is the only police that does not act independently, and responds to the governor of each state. As a result, it often acts on internal repression – it is a part of the army targeted at Brazil’s own population. Riot police belongs to the last group. As a consequence, force tends to be used over negotiation, even in peaceful demonstrations.

New media rebuttal has begun. “What year is it?”, asked columnist Mônica Mourão in Carta Capital, The Economist’s sister publication. To her, arbitrary acts against protesters in 2013 and 2014 share “striking resemblance to repressive actions taken by the civil-military dictatorship” that occurred between 1964 and 1985. Besides repressing protesters, police impeded the work of lawyers and journalists.

“Preventive” arrests

According to official figures, police in Rio de Janeiro arrested at least 37 people, for alleged connections with demonstrations scheduled to coincide with the end of the World Cup. However, citizen journalism groups point to almost 60. It was confirmed that 16 people were arrested without a warrant, only for “investigatory purposes.” They were arrested because they were in the home of the arrested suspects, informed a spokesperson of the Civil Police.

The chairman of the Commission on Human Rights from the National Bar Association (OAB), Marcelo Chalreo, reinforced in an interview with BBC that the arrests are unconstitutional. “These have intimidatory  nature, without legal grounds, and have sharp political bias”, he stated. He alleges that the purpose behind these is “driving people away from public acts”.
Police confirmed that one of the people arrested “in flagrant” is the father of one of the youngsters at who one of the arrest warrants was directed. Upon entering the residence for the arrest, the police found a pistol, legalized, but with expired license register. Another teenager was arrested for possession of marijuana, although also within amount allowed by law. The presence of sports equipment – such as knee and elbow pads – as well as flyers, banners and signs were considered incriminating evidence.

“Someone who has a mere newspaper at home may have participated in other violent action,” said the head of Rio’s civil police, Fernando Veloso. Consequently, charges were upgraded to “formation of armed gang”, making habeas corpus no longer possible. The Rio activist Elisa Pinto Tables Sanzio, 28, was arrested in Porto Alegre and accused of being ringleader. When questioned by volunteer lawyers about the absence of more weapons, the answer received is that suspects had performed deeds tracked during the investigation started in September, which allowed delegate, prosecutor and judge to conclude that they “participated in acts of violence, even if not directly”.

“These people want to make war, want to cause chaos and the police cannot allow it,” added Veloso. This argument has already been used in a meeting for political discussion that took place in São Paulo two weeks ago. During a debate organized by students at Roosevelt Square, Military Police confiscated a copy of “Marighella”, a biography carried in the backpack of one of the attendants. About the episode, the author Mário Magalhães was emphatic. “It opens up a witch hunt for those who intend to know the history of this revolutionary man, whether they like the character or not”. Last year, it won the highest literary honour in the country, Jabuti. “We are in 2014, but sometimes it does not seem like it,” he added.

The NGO Amnesty International has been denouncing abuses of Brazilian state governments towards protests since the tournament began. “Freedom of expression and peaceful protest is a human right and should be respected and guaranteed by the authorities in all situations, including during the World Cup. Nobody should be detained or arrested only for attending a demonstration and exercising such right”, said the official statement made on Monday the 14th.


Cornered media
Reporters Without Borders released a public awareness campaign on the 13th to denounce the attacks on freedom of information and the daily violent acts committed against journalists in Brazil. Ironically, on the same day, the coverage of the protest in Rio de Janeiro had the highest number of occurrences: 14, all authored by the police.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) recorded 38 cases of arrests, assaults and holdings involving 36 media professionals while covering events between June 12 and July 13.

By note, the organization explained that, in keeping along with the pattern observed since June last year, most violations (89%) came from the police. Among these, 52% were intentional – i.e. the victim identified himself as media professional or bore clear and prominent identification. he other aggressions were caused by rioters and FIFA private security guards. “The cases highlight the disproportionate use of force by the police,” it read. “Deliberate attacks constitute direct censorship and cannot be tolerated.”

Reporters Without Borders has recorded at least 54 attacks on journalists since the start of the year. In February, Santiago Andrade Ilídio from Bandeirantes TV, died due to a firework thrown by protesters. “The defeat may have been traumatic, but it should not overshadow other much more serious losses for the country in terms of access to information,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the NGO. The country is in the 111th position among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.


Until Saturday (19), Amnesty International runs a petition requiring preventive and punitive measures towards cases of excessive use of force by the military, which will be delivered to President Dilma Rousseff. At the same time, alternative media and citizen journalism groups such as Mídia Ninja and Pragmatismo Político grow significantly.

The most promising initiative is perhaps the “Bridge”, in operation since June 23. The project brings together 20 renowned journalists who have decided to create a new communication tool, focused on public safety and human rights. The new venture has the support of investigative journalism agency Pública and professionals of recognized trajectory in related fields.

According to Laura Capriglione, who worked for nearly ten years in Folha de São Paulo on guidelines on public safety, Ponte questions traditional mainstream media coverage. “Evening television programs are tremendously sensationalist”. The difference is in promoting coverage that favors the rights of the accused and compliance with the law, which is not seen in programs where there is even presenters calling for the summary execution of alleged criminals, regardless of investigation. With the rising tide of vigilante justice, it is a good start.

Written by Scheila Silveira
Photo Credit: Paulisson Miura


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