World Bulletin / News Desk
President Dilma Rousseff has confirmed that the government is drafting new legislation aimed at combatting all types of violence during street protests, in a bid to allay fears ahead of this year's FIFA World Cup.
Speaking to radio stations in Alagoas state on Wednesday, the President said the government would also seek to toughen penalties and sentences for those convicted of crimes committed in public demonstrations.
It is the latest in a string of controversial bills targeting public disorder at protests and is set to be pushed through Congress as quickly as possible.
Commentators point out that there are similar bills currently tabled in Congress which has set out to target the so-called Black Blocs group and the wearing of masks at protests, which the president also criticized on Wednesday.
Ms. Rousseff defended the idea behind the new bill: “We must enforce the law and the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to protest but prohibits anonymity. So we are working on legislation to prevent all forms of violence at protests.”
Critics of the new legislation say it is unnecessary, as crimes committed at protests are already covered by existing laws, and that it and a number of other “vague” anti-terror bills currently tabled in Congress are an attempt to suppress the public's ability to protest and avoid further embarrassment during this year's World Cup.
They include constitutional legal expert Leonardo Vizeu from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), who told BBC Brasil that new legislation being drafted to counter protest violence was unnecessary and could discourage people from protesting altogether.
He said he feared that, under the new laws, “people could be considered to have broken a law by agreeing to gather [to protest] leading to them feeling unable to exercise their rights”.
Avoiding a re-run of 2013?
On Tuesday, Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said the bill would be presented by the end of the week to tackle crimes associated with street protests, such as those seen in June 2013 when a wave of demonstrations spread across Brazil and saw millions of Brazilians take to the streets in over 300 cities.
Smaller-scale, localized protests are still occurring regularly and it is thought that the country's hosting of the World Cup in June and July this year – which coincides with the first anniversary of 2013's widespread anti-government protests – will spark a fresh wave of unrest if the public discontent with the government continues.
Most protests have been largely peaceful, but pockets of violence have occurred, particularly when confronted by occasionally heavy-handed police.
Rio de Janeiro, which will host the top World Cup fixtures in under four months' time and the Summer Olympics in 2016, has borne the brunt of the violence.
The Black Blocs have been widely condemned as fronting the violence, but its members argue they have been maligned by the government and parts of the press and that their role is to ensure the public can protest in safety from a heavy-handed military police force.
Recent reports have also alleged that protesters are being paid to stir up troubles, with some accusing radical leftist political parties of bankrolling public unrest.
Pressure on the government has mounted even further since the death of TV cameraman Santiago Andrade, who died as a result of head injuries sustained through violence at a protest against an increase in bus fares in Rio on February 6.
The death brought the topic of violence in public protests, both at the hands of protesters and the police, back into the headlines and to the attention of the government.
A recent poll conducted by Datafolha in Rio de Janeiro found the majority of local residents were in favor of protests, but not of protesters who vandalize or wear masks.
The poll showed that 56 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the protests and 40 percent were against. Although a majority of respondents were still in favor of street protests, it was the lowest protest approval that the Datafolha series has seen.Last Mod: 20 Şubat 2014, 11:22